A celebration of parenting with Katrina Roe

Category Archives: Education and learning

In my last post I talked about my daughter’s athletics carnival.

That day she came home with a sticker that said ‘I ran in a race’.  Whoever is making those stickers is making a fortune because everybody there had one.  There was no ribbon for getting third in the longjump, but every kid got a sticker that said ‘I ran in a race.’

I realise that this is designed to put the emphasis on participation, rather than winning.  But I am not sure why we feel we have to reward kids for doing something that everybody has to do anyway.  We’ve created a culture where kids won’t do anything without being rewarded, even if that reward is just a sticker or our praise.  The obvious problem with that is that it creates a sense of entitlement, where they’re always looking for a reward, rather than a sense of achievement.  But it can also mean that they’re reluctant to try something they’re not so good at, because they’re looking for the gold star, rather than a chance to learn something.

Birdy has a natural ability for Maths, and she was put in a Maths group with some very bright kids.  But ever since she heard that her report card last year said she was ‘outstanding’ at Maths, she’s been trying to convince us that she’s hopeless at it, that it’s too hard, and that she needs to go down into a lower Maths group.
I have a bad mum confession to make, we didn’t get Caillie’s maths homework done last week.  No excuse, we just didn’t get to it.  So last night I said ‘You’ve got to do last week’s homework before we start this weeks.’  ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘but there’s no point, I won’t be able to get it marked.’  So I explained to her that the point of doing maths homework isn’t just to get the smiley face and the sticker, you’re actually meant to learn the stuff.  At which point she said it was too hard and she couldn’t do it.  So I sat down with her to supervise and when she finished I said, ‘See that wasn’t too hard’.  ‘Yes it was, it was way too complicated’.  And I said, ‘But you got every question right… How can it be too hard if you got every single question right?’.  Well, the reason she thought it was too hard was because she actually had to work out the answer.  She didn’t just know it immediately.  She’s used to it being easy and that makes her feel clever.  Hence she wants to go into a lower Maths group, so she can just know all the answers and feel like she’s clever.  And that’s the problem with giving kids gold stars all the time, that feeling is addictive.  They become more concerned with the reward, or the ‘clever feeling’ they get from the reward, than the learning outcome.
I’m a bit of a slave driver when I supervise homework.  I’m always saying, ‘Is that your best work?’. ‘That’s too messy, rub that out and do it again’.  But that’s because I’m a big believer in the idea that the best reward is the satisfaction of a job well done.  I would rather do half of it properly, than race through just to finish.  So the only reward Caillie gets from me is, ‘Good on you, you’ve finished it,’ or ‘That’s enough, you’ve worked well.’  But you know what, after we finished the exercise, and I pointed out that she got all those hard questions right, I told her it was time for a bath, and you’ll never believe what she said:  ‘Oh, No, mum!  Do I have to?  I want to do more homework!’
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Birdy getting her third place in the long jump.

Birdy getting her third place in the long jump.

Firstly, apologies for the hiatus in posting.  I’ve had a few computer problems lately, but they’re sorted now!

My daughter had her very first athletics carnival a few weeks ago.  I wasn’t expecting great things – she came fifth out of seven in her heat – but she did pick up a third in the long jump.  We were all pretty stoked with that.  There are some families for whom the swimming carnival and the athletics carnival are the highlight of their calendar. They always come back laden with ribbons and trophys.  For others, there’s the ever-present fear of being the last kid in the pool, or being left behind drowning while everyone else is already enjoying the sausage sizzle..

I was very average at athletics.  I used to do okay in the long distance races, but with swimming I’m sure I had lead weights in my legs.  My husband, however, was a natural swimmer.  I like to joke that it’s because he’s less highly evolved; he has extra-long Neanderthal arms. I’m not too fussed about whether my kids win races or not, but I think it’s good to get into the spirit of these days, because they can be a lot of fun.  However, recently I’ve noticed that kids’ sport seems to bring out both the best and the worst in people.

I heard two very different stories from friends on Facebook recently. One friend was threatened by a fellow parent for defending the referee, who was a 13 year old boy.  A parent got quite aggro at the boy, so naturally my friend was sticking up for him.  Next thing you know, the Dad wanted to fight him over it.

On the other end of the spectrum another friend posted this beautiful story.  He wrote it so aptly that I thought I’d just quote him verbatim.

“We were at Jordan’s athletics day today and he’d just finished the 800m. He’s knackered and we’re having a chat when we spot a little fella in the next heat who’s barely left the start line when everyone else has already taken the first corner. He’s totally out of his depth – but he’s turned up and he’s having a crack.

By the 400m mark he’s been lapped by nearly everyone and he soon finds himself the only one on the track. A teacher asks over the PA for people to “please stay off the track because we still have a competitor in the race”.

You can see he’s really struggling now and he starts walking down the back straight – but he’s not giving up!! What a champ!

And then… out of the blue, up pops our Jordan. (8yrs old) He walks with this kid all the way down the back straight and into the final corner where he suddenly gets a jog on. We watch as Jordan cuts across the field and stands at the finish line with stacks of other kids who are cheering like this kid’s coming in for the gold medal.

They’re chanting his name as he crosses the finish line and everyone’s pumped!  Such an awesome moment! Everyone had massive smiles on their faces…

Except us.

We’re standing there trying to hide the tears in our eyes over what we’d just seen our little man do. What a champ. We couldn’t be prouder.”

Isn’t that beautiful?  Isn’t it amazing how having just one person come alongside him made all the difference?

Better than coming home laden with trophies is coming home blessed by a heart full of kindness.  And better than winning a ribbon is realising what makes a real champion – the determination to keep going when others would have packed up and gone home.


Molly Green Sheep 2

We’ve recently been away visiting family in the country.  Can I just say there is no better family holiday entertainment than going to stay in the country and discovering there’s a real live mouse in the house!  My little city kids thought that was very exciting.  When Granny said she’d put out a mouse trap, Henry (my 3 year old nephew) picked up the board game Mouse Trap and gave it to Granny to catch the mouse with.  Hilarious!

Every time we go away, I’m absolutely amazed at how much stuff you need to go on holidays with kids.  At least Birdy packs for herself now, but she always wants to take a ridiculous amount of toys.  Whereas all Molly needs to keep herself occupied is a baby doll and a copy of Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox.  We did a six hour car trip from Dubbo to Darlington Point (near Griffith) and Molly was quite happy reading Where is the Green Sheep? to herself for most of that time.

Is there any child in Australia who doesn’t have a copy of that book?  

When Birdy was born we were given four copies of it, and we gave two away which I’m regretting because the other copies are now so worn out.  When I was a kid, I think every parent knew off by heart the words, “Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits, and their names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter…”  Or this one: “In the light of the moon a little egg lay on a leaf.  Then one Sunday morning, the warm sun came up and – pop! – out of the egg came a tiny and very hungry caterpillar.”  These days I think every parent knows the words, “Here is the blue sheep, here is the red sheep, here is the bath sheep and here is the bed sheep.  But where is the green sheep?” It’s almost become a developmental phase that between the ages of one and three children become obsessed with that book.

What is it about that book?  Why do toddlers love it so much?

I think it’s the perfect combination of the everyday and the absurd.  It’s full of things that even babies recognise – the sun, the rain, a car, a train – and yet the pictures are also portraying something outrageous, like a sheep dancing around a lamp stand with an umbrella in the rain.  Yet the pictures are so simple and iconic that even Molly at eighteen months will point to the umbrella and say “ella”.

The first time I read this book, I found it very strange and I wasn’t the only one.  I was a bit surprised to read Mem Fox using nouns as adjectives.  Lines like ‘Here is the bath sheep’ are a little grating at first, because we’ d normally say ‘Here is a sheep having a bath’, or ‘Here’s a sheep in the bath’.  And yet somehow it really is perfect for little kids.  The other day I discovered that it won the Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Award in 2005.  I can see why.  It is literally teaching my daughter to speak.  She now points to the moon and says ‘moo’ and at the star and says ‘ta’.  So even though we might get a little bit sick of reading the same book over and over and over again, it is actually the best way to encourage speech and literacy in little ones.  Of course, once they get older, it’s good to read more widely, but for a one-year-old all you really need are three or four copies of Where is the Green Sheep?

Where is the Green Sheep

(PS.  If you’re looking for other great books to encourage your toddler’s speech development, why not check out the Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year 2013 shortlist and past winners.)

Have your children enjoyed Where is the Green Sheep and made you read it over and over again?  What do you think of it?


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My daughter had her first major dancing concert this week.  She does highland dancing, but it’s not just the traditional highland flings and bagpipes.  This concert included contemporary dance, hip-hop fused highland, and a very fun Celtic Bollywood Extravaganza, which my daughter was part of.

Now I realise highland dancing is a bit of an unusual choice, but there is a good reason behind it.

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My Dad’s originally from Scotland, so that’s part of it, but the main issue for me was wanting to find a form of dancing that was active and fun, but also conducive to a healthy body image.  You don’t have to be a stick insect to do highland.  Too often you see little girls in skimpy outfits, plastered with makeup, doing really inappropriate moves to really inappropriate music.

It’s like they’re 6 going on 16. 

I remember taking Caillie to a toddler dance class at the church around the corner and they were playing stuff like “I’m too sexy!”  That didn’t last long!  There’s a lot of reasearch now suggesting that little girls are growing up too fast, wanting to wear make-up, getting conerned about their appearance and body image, so I’m really grateful to have found a healthy, fun dance school for my girls, where the costumes aren’t too revealing and there are lots of positive role models among the teenagers.

Psychotherapist Collett Smart once told me that it was important for kids to have hobbies outside of school so they have a range of role models beyond just their school peers.  I’m certainly seeing the wisdom in that as I see my daughter starting to look up to some of the older girls there.  As a mother of girls, I’m also really aware that they take a lot of their cues from us.  So we have to take a good hard look at ourselves.  If we’re always dieting or trying to change ourselves then how can we tell our girls that they’re beautiful as they are?  In a culture that’s becoming obsessed with physical perfection, how far is too far?

I’m okay with decorating, but not with trying to change how I’m made.  That’s where I draw the line in the sand.  So wearing nice clothes, jewellery, nailpolish, and a bit of make-up is just decorating, but doing things to try to change the way I am made is not okay.  So for me, that rules out fake anything, crash dieting, botox, collagen injections, cosmetic surgery, anything in which we’re trying to alter our bodies or unrealistically reverse the ageing process, because that says we’re not good enough as we are.  Exactly where we draw that line will be different for everyone, but for me it’s about accepting that we come in different shapes and sizes and that we don’t have to strive for physical perfection.

Social media has a lot to answer for in this area.  I recently attended a talk by Justine Toh from the Centre for Public Christianity where she talked about how the i-generation is using social media to create their own image.  Every time we post a glamorous selfie, or un-tag ourselves in an unflattering photo, we’re building this culture of perfection, which is causing our young girls to feel inadequate.  (Obviously some people do need to look professional on facebook – I’m not saying we should all be trogs!)  One time I got sick of all the glamorous profile pics you see on facebook, so I took a photo of myself with no make-up – I hadn’t even brushed my hair – it was just me how I actually look most of the time.  Anyway my husband saw the photo on facebook, put a filter on it on his i-pad and emailed it to me, as a favour.  And it did look better, but I was like “Noooo.”  I deliberately wanted a photo that’s completely natural.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA So let’s resist the culture of perfection, people!  

Let’s teach our girls how to deconstruct those enhanced images they see on the bus stop billboards and show our girls that we’re happy with ourselves, just as we are.   Then maybe they’ll have a chance of being happy with themselves too.


The other day my husband taught me a vital lesson in the art of listening… to our kids, that is.  (Of course, I always listen to him!)  It was about 5 o clock and getting cold outside.  I wanted to start cooking dinner.  Molly came in from outside and started tugging on the baby gate near the back door.  I assumed she was getting cold outside so I opened it for her and stood aside to let her come in.  She said, “NO!” very crossly and slammed the gate shut.  Then she burst into tears.  Assuming she still wanted to come in, I opened it and again she slammed it shut, cried “NO!” and burst into tears.  I figured she must have wanted me to come outside with her so I said, “I’m not coming outside, I’m cooking dinner” and she got in a huff and ran back outside to Dad.

A few minutes later Chris comes in and says, “Aren’t you listening?  Can’t you hear Molly calling to you?  She’s saying, ‘Mumma, push.  Mumma, push.’  She’s asking you to come and push her on the swing.”  As soon as he explained it, I could hear exactly what she was saying. But because I’d never heard her say that before, I couldn’t understand her until I had the translation.

Molly on swingI actually think the most important thing we can do to encourage our babies to talk is to make the time to listen.  And I mean really listen.  Getting down on their level, looking them in the eye, waiting patiently and really listening to what they’re trying to tell us.

Obviously it’s also important to talk to your baby, play with your baby, read to your baby, include them in whatever you’re doing, but children will absorb language from all around them, whether you deliberately teach them or not.  But to speak they need to be motivated, and the best motivation is when using words gets them the result they want, whether that’s getting a push on the swing, a bottle of milk, or simply getting Mummy’s attention.

Since that incident, I’ve been making a more conscious effort to listen to Molly and try to understand what she’s sayingbut it takes commitment.  Just yesterday I was pulling up weeds in the garden when Molly climbed up on the double swing with Caillie and said, “Mumma, push.  Mumma, push.”  So immediately I dropped the weed I was tugging and started pushing her in the swing.  But even while I was doing it, she kept saying, “Mumma, push, Mumma, push,” and I thought, “What now?  Mumma is pushing!”  Then she made this little musical sound, “Mumma, do do do do, la la la Push!” and I realised that she wanted me to sing the Wiggles song I always sing when she’s on the swing.  “Push me on the swing, feel the air, through my hair, swinging, swinging, on a swing.”  That was what she wanted all along!  That’s why it had to be Mumma push, not Daddy push or Caillie push, because she wanted the song.  Sometimes, even when Mummy thinks she’s listening really well, it still takes a while to get the message!


Yesterday was a bit of a milestone day for me.  I spoke at a conference for librarians for the very first time.  Fortunately I was able to get some tips from the illustrious Collett Smart, but I thought today I would share with you just a little of what I was talking about: Bibliotherapy, – Seeking solace in stories.

So what is bibliotherapy?

Bibliotherapy is using books to help kids with the tough issues they face in their lives.  So there tends to be a focus on disability or chronic illness, but it also extends to issues like divorce, loneliness, grief and loss, depression, ageing, basically any difficult or confronting issue that a child might be facing.

How does it work?

My picture book Marty's Nut-free Party is available from all good bookstores and from Wombat Books at www.wombatbooks.com.au

It works in two different ways.  The first and most obvious one is to help the child who has the problem by normalising it and helping them to realise that they’re not the only one dealing with this issue.  So for example with my book Marty’s Nut-Free Party, it can be used to help a child with a food allergy to see that they’re not alone, that it’s normal to make mistakes and it can also give them some ideas about how to deal with their problem.  So with some discussion and activities, bibliotherapy should help children to find their own solutions to their problems.  It may also help them to realise that solutions may be possible.

The other main purpose is to help raise awareness and empathy among those who don’t have experience with the issue.  So for example, Sharon McGuinness has written a beautiful book called Coming Home about a young girl whose father has severe depression.  That book can help to raise awareness among people who don’t have experience with depression and give them a little insight into what it might be like for children who do live with that.

Coming Home is available from Wombat Books.  www.wombatbooks.com.au

Coming Home is available from Wombat Books. http://www.wombatbooks.com.au

Does it actually help kids to read about these kinds of tough issues? 

The best kind of bibliotherapy is when the issue is just wrapped up in a good story, with great characters, who aren’t defined by their issue or their disability.  It’s really important that the characters aren’t two dimensional.  There has to be something more to them so that children can identify with them.  And if children are drawn into the story, then they’ll learn something without even realising it.  It’s only when you talk about it more that some of those things they’ve learned will become more conscious.

What parents should keep in mind is that learning to empathise with others is actually an important skill in itself.  So if your child brings home a book from the library about disability, even if your child doesn’t have a friend with a disability, it’s still valuable for them to learn to think about what life might be like for someone who does.  Because that skill of being able to empathise will be valuable later when they do come across someone in life who is a bit different to them.  And there’s actually some evidence that childhood is the best time to learn that skill.  So I would even go so far as to say that if we can teach our children to walk around in another person’s shoes, and to develop that empathy, we could even be helping to build a more compassionate and empathetic society in the long term.

Finally, if you do have a tough issue that your child is dealing with such as grief, divorce, disability or ageing, here are some good resources.

Title Author Publisher Issues covered
Anthony Best Davene Fahy Sky Pony Press Aspergers
Amy & Louis Libby Gleeson Scholastic Australia Moving House,Losing friendships
Bear’s Last Journey Udo Weigelt North-South Books Death/Grief
Big Dog Libby Gleeson Scholastic / Bright Stars Fear of dogs
Clancy & Millie and the Very Fine House Libby Gleeson Little Hare Books Moving House/Friendships
Coming Home Sharon McGuinness Wombat Books Parental Depression
Do you know Millie? Gordon Winch New Frontier Moving
Goodbye Mousie Robie H Harris Aladdin Death/Grief
Herman and Rosie Gus Gordon Penguin/Viking Loneliness
Living with Mum and Living with Dad Melanie Walsh Walker Books Divorce
Looking for Rex Jan Ormerod Little Hare Ageing
Marty’s Nut-Free Party Katrina Roe Wombat Books Food allergies
Mum and Dad Glue Kes Gray Barron’s Educational Series Divorce
My Mum’s Got Cancer Dr Lucy Blunt Jane Curry Publishing Cancer
Nathan’s Wish Laurie Lears Albert Whitman & Co Cerebral palsy, disability
The Very Best of Friends Margaret Wild Margaret Hamilton Books Death / Grief
Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge Mem Fox Omnibus Books Scholastic Ageing / Dementia
When I’m Feeling Sad/Kind/Scared/Angry etc Trace Moroney The Five Mile Press Understanding emotions
Ziba Came on a Boat Liz Lofthouse Penguin/Viking Refugees

Have you ever used a book to help your kids understand a difficult issue?  Did it help?  Why or why not?  Are there any you would recommend to add to this list?


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My youngest daughter is about 16 months old now.  When she turned one, her big sister gave her a beautiful baby doll to play with.  Nothing warms my heart like seeing Molly care for her baby doll.  She makes a little crying noise and sometimes even says ‘up’, she picks the dolly up, gives her a cuddle, gently pats her back, kisses her very tenderly, then cuddles her again.  After she’s done all that, she either gives her baby a bottle, puts her to her chest like she’s breastfeeding, or tucks the baby into bed, gives her a pat and then rocks her to sleep.  At the end of the sequence she gets this big smile on her face like she’s really proud of herself.

It’s just the sweetest thing you’ve ever seen, and I find it amazing that even at 16 months, she’s starting to care for someone else and thinking about their needs.  (Even if that someone else is just a lump of plastic in the shape of a baby!)

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She’s obviously learned that stuff from watching myself and other adults caring for their babies.  And that’s not the only way she mimics the adults around her.  One of the first things she ever did was pick things up, hold them to her ear and talk on them like they’re a phone.  It could be anything – a shoe, a Tupperware container, a banana.  My husband likes to imply that this somehow means that Mummy is always on the phone, which I assure you is not the case!

Yesterday my husband brought home a beautiful hand-me-down toy kitchen from someone at his work.  Both my girls spent all afternoon playing with it.  They were doing pretend cooking, filling up the fridge with pretend food, stacking plates, washing-up, heating up bottles of milk in the microwave and making tea.  They were having so much fun!  Why isn’t it ever that much fun when I’m washing up?  But for kids, play is their work.  Play is how they learn.  These little role-playing games that my girls are acting out are their way of learning about the world.  And scarily, the person they learn that from, is mostly me.

Sometimes my little mimics aren’t so flattering.  Sometimes Birdy tries to cut a deal with me, or makes conditions on what she does.  For example, I’ve just asked her to pick up her clothes and she says, “I’ll only clean up my clothes if you let me watch another episode of Mr Moon.”  That kind of controlling behaviour is kind of ugly when it comes out of your kids’ mouths, but of course she’s learned that from us.  We use those techniques as a way to get our children to do what we want, and then they can’t understand why they’re not allowed to do the same thing.  It’s probably just as well that our children’s behaviour can sometimes hold up a mirror to us.  I just hope that one day my children will mimic Mummy doing something a little more inspiring than washing up, cooking dinner and talking on the phone!



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