Why Emotions Coaching should be on the school syllabus

At a certain stage in their lives, our young-adult children leave an institution of higher education (be in high school, college or university) with a piece of paper that declares them literate and numerate, and thus ready for the world of work.

Unfortunately, there is no syllabus, tests or qualifications on the very important subject called Emotions.

In a bygone era, it was kind of taken for granted that children learn that from the home. That was in a time where families lived close together and children had the luxury of playing with neighborhood friends after school. It is amazing how much children learn from unstructured play and from being outdoors; how to get on with others, how to make up rules, conflict resolution, self-regulation, handling playground politics, coping with losing, managing own safety and the world they live in, to name but a few.

When unstructured, outdoor play and the benefit of extended families are removed from children, the task of Emotions Coaching is left unfulfilled. To compound matters, growing up in emotionally cold households does not provide children with the opportunities to learn about Emotions – theirs and other people’s.

Emotions are living beings within our physical selves, vibrant and alive. We have to learn how to connect with the Emotions within us and to manage them, rather than control and suppress a part of the human being that is meant to live and breathe. Controlling and suppressing are the cornerstones of Discipline. I think a more positive coaching path is to teach children how to connect and deal with the entity within.

We tell children to stop crying, without finding out why they are crying. We tell them it is silly to be frightened, without knowing what their fears are.

If we don’t know the Emotions that live within us, we feed them the wrong diet. They either grow into beasts or they die. If they are unloved, they will someday rebel or they will simply stop breathing. Even if these worst-case scenarios don’t happen, isn’t it sad that we are strangers to our own Emotions?

I have known adults who have successfully built cages for their Emotions, but there are incidences when their caged Emotions break free – as they do when they grow too large or too strong to be successfully suppressed by will power.

In some cases, Emotions die from neglect or never had the chance to grow to their full maturity. I have known a successful professional, a very charming friend and an attractive looking individual. But peel back the layers and you find a hurt and frightened little boy who lashes out uncontrollably, who was never given the chance to mature into a grown-up lover, a strong husband, a tender father. No outward career success, long line of exciting lovers or big address book of acquaintances can ever compensate for not knowing the deep joys of really loving and being loved, that only comes when we are connected with our own Emotions.

Thus, we have to step up to the mark and implement Emotions Coaching, first on ourselves, then our spouses and children. Be literate in this subject, because you have to know love before you can love; you have to love yourself the way you want to be loved before you can teach someone how to love you in the same way. Yes, it is deep. Yes, the syllabus is arduous and can be complicated. But you can’t afford not to invest in Emotions Coaching. Leave no child (including yourself) stunted, silenced and dying.

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When do we stop teaching our children?

We teach our children how to walk, to use a spoon, to cross roads. We teach them to lock doors, to know about money, to plan their future. For me, the teaching never stops, because it represents a transmission of family history and values from one generation to the next. Parenting is indeed a lifelong labour of love.

I feel extremely fortunate that I am able to devote myself fully into teaching my youngest child. I teach her the physical sciences, though her mathematical brain is superior to mine. Indeed, I wrote a book for her, a novella that builds the bridge between the world of theoretical physics and the one we live in.

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I also teach her ‘school’ subjects, but with heart and soul woven into the endeavour. After all, history has shown us that scientific theories come and go with new discoveries. What remains is the beautiful lesson embedded within them.

I put my teaching resources on The Times Education Supplement. Until Sunday 12th February, you can obtain £3 credit off my Physics Relativity Option for 16-18 year olds, which includes an e-version of the book mentioned above. To redeem, enter code SUNDAY3 at tes.com/redeem. The link to the resource is:

https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/ib-physics-option-a-relativity-powerpoint-lesson-prompts-handouts-and-reading-material-11411922

You will find much here, lots of physics and love ❤

Photo: lesson plan for Chemistry that extends beyond the syllabus.

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The Wind Catcher

I grew up in a time and a culture that valued men who were “real” men and boys who were “bruisers”. Indeed my own household, despite my fighting back, was largely testosterone-driven. My children’s father had brought that insidious way of being into our lives –in his twenties, he was powerfully built and traditionally male. Our children idolised him; he was a huge presence in our lives. He was our anchor.

“My Daddy is the strongest man in the world,” our children would announce proudly to their classmates. Never mind that other people’s daddies were professional footballers or PE teachers.

I was secretly delighted when my youngest son Jack turned out to be different. It took us a very long time to figure out what ‘different’ was. For the longest time, everybody in the family thought Jack was a mummy’s boy, because I spoilt him.

How that hurt me.

I cossetted him because he was different, not the other way round, because there was a certain fragility and a vulnerability in him that I saw but nobody else did. “Nonsense,” my mother-in-law used to say impatiently to me. “There is nothing wrong with him at all!”

Just because he was a handsome boy, it did not mean that he belonged to the group where bruisers belonged. He did not even belong to the sub-group of quieter boys, the ones who are labeled ‘wimps’. He was just different.

“You’re my Apple Head Jock,” I used to say to him, because in a strange twist of genetics, Jack has been blessed with the most beautiful Celtic colouring of his forefathers: creamy white skin and jet-black hair of the Celts. And no, he did not have to toughen up. He is beautiful just as he is. He is special.

A man who understands this is Toni De Coninck. Like me, Toni has a very special son. For Alex is a Highly Sensitive Personality (HSP), a little known condition that makes him ‘different’. And like me, too, Toni has fought countless battles, simply because things are not what they seem.

How could ‘sensitivity’ ever be described as a symptom, even a disease?

HSP has the inability to cope with new situations, whether pleasant or unpleasant. It leads to meltdowns and awful situations that the public simply does not understand. In our world of unexpected changes and fluxes, it presents a huge, if not impossible, challenge to maintain constancy and predictability at every instance. A handful of sand – normality in the childhoods of others’ children – caused a huge upheaval in Toni’s life whilst on a holiday.

“Dad, there are other people,” Alex had said to his father poignantly.

The main challenge for Toni and parents like myself is trying to get our special children to talk about their emotions, and trying to keep these emotions from overheating. And for us to know that it is OK, have faith, and love will guide the way.

Toni has written a deeply touching book about his relationship with Alex. It is called De Windvanger (The Wind Catcher). My only regret that the book is written in Dutch, but it has given me comfort to know that I was never alone in my difficult journey.

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To order: https://www.lannoo.be/en/de-windvanger

 

A Little Sister For Christmas

There was a time when people thought it was not important to educate girls.

The story of Malala Yousafzai (born 12 July 1997), who fought hard for the education of girls in the Swat Valley in Northwest Pakistan under the Taliban rule brought world attention to the fact that though it is eschewed in the constitution of many countries, girls still have to fight for the right to be educated equally as boys. Rural girls in developing countries are still not getting the opportunities.

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Last year, a man visited the British International School Phuket and brought a message of change and empowerment. The school, set amongst the hills of Phuket, is home to some 850 students, ranging in age from four to 18.

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The visitor’s aim was to encourage privileged girls to help those who are less fortunate than them. Several girls visited an orphanage in India last April, and during their visit, they got to know one little girl who stood out amongst the rest. They wanted to give this little girl a chance to study at their school.

Together the girls took their idea to the Headmaster and to their great delight the management were willing to offer a scholarship place the school.  However, the school could not also support travel costs or the cost of laptop and uniform. This left the girls with a major challenge, but they refused to be put off.

And so, the project began with the International Women Association (IWA) Phuket and the school. Cosima Der Roche De La Baume, Emily Varley, Emiri Matsui and Sophie Duncan, all aged 15, threw themselves wholeheartedly into raising the necessary finances. Their target was to raise THB100,000 (approximately £2,255) by the New Year. So far, they have achieved 85% of their target via a series of well-planned fundraisers.

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Of course, there were the traditional bake sales. These were sold alongside tiny boxes of ‘love’, namely beautifully wrapped little keepsakes with a hear-warming message. A tennis tournament and a boot sale added to the girls’ coffers. The Christmas hamper raffle was a big contributor to the finances, as the hampers were filled with irresistible luxuries such as a Christmas cake, mincemeat and chocolates, to name but a few. An innovative project to make a quilt from donated secondhand uniforms is currently taking place, and the quilt will be auctioned off to help the girls meet their target.

All in all, it had been a really hardworking few months for Cosima, Emily, Emiri and Sophie as these hectic activities were happening in the midst of their IGCSEs.

“I think this experience has made us realise just how much time, effort and money has to go into changing the life of one individual. We all feel so proud to have been able to give a young girl the same opportunity that we take for granted. It has taken a long time to bring her to our school and it feels amazing to know we are making significant progress. We have gained much from this. This project has definitely developed our organisation and time management skills as well as educate us on the difficulty of changing the life of a young girl for the better.

“Our next steps are getting the girl settled into our school as well as provide her with everything she will need for her new life at BISP. This girl will then become our “adopted little sister” and the four of us will take on the role of making sure she settles into the school and her new life as quickly as possible. After that we will come up with a new project or find another girl or group of girls to help, although we have not thought this far ahead just yet.”

The gift of education, empowerment and lifelong friendships – what better gifts for Christmas than this modern trinity of incense, frankincense and myrrh.

Photo: The girls with their Christmas hamper winner.

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Related article: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/hard-girls-rural-india-stay-school/

 

Children get their intelligence from their mums – NO.

It is headline-grabbing but rather thin on the science. If I had published that as a research article, my supervisors would have slain me. Well, serious peer-reviewed journals wouldn’t have published it anyway. And who are the authors and affiliated institutions?

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There is an article that is making its round on the social media circuit, namely that a new “study” shows that children get their intelligence from their mothers. Intelligence, apparently, is carried in the X-chromosomes, of which women have two (men have XY). This study was published in a psychology blog and the article is not peer-reviewed.

Even with my limited biology knowledge, I find this claim dubious. A person gets half their chromosomes from mum, and half from dad. Thus, one half of mum’s intelligence-dwelling X chromosomes came from HER DAD anyway! So this headline-grabbing article falls on the first logic test. And hey, even men do have an X-chromosomes, though admittedly, they do not pass this to their offspring.

Moreover, the DNA unravels and combines in the most magical way that we don’t yet know about – the way they splice, cut, repair, meld, sew up. And it is not the whole X-chromosome that is about intelligence, maybe just a variant within the gene. And I don’t think geneticists know which particular variant is responsible for ‘intelligence’.

We are also just beginning to know that the same DNA sequence can be read differently, depending on the chemical markers.

And what is intelligence? It is the complex relationships between neurons and synapses that allow for recollections, memory, analysis, logic. The ‘best’ grade neurons and synapses, if not trained to fire effectively, are as useless as electrical circuits without a power supply.

Sure, it is headline-grabbing. And as mentioned, I have limited but strong foundational knowledge in biology, but even to a layperson like me, it doesn’t sit right.

But what I know for a fact is that my children get their emotional intelligence from their father. “Intelligence” needs other factors to make it work, like providing the right environment for developing brains, teaching young children how to think, creating safety in the brain so that the right triggers are fired.

My children’s father has this intuitive way of making little people feel special. It’s as if he is a gardener, only that he grows his little children instead of flowers. And his garden blooms very well, because it is his life’s work. So maybe there is the intelligence there, to focus on the task (whatever it may be), be grounded in faith and following our inner wisdom instead of fad. To learn to be kind always, to laugh a lot, to take a balanced view on achievements and most importantly, to nurture others.

Perhaps this is a better definition of intelligence.

When life and love came into being

When I was at university, I hated Biochemistry. I hated Organic Chemistry. I hated those incomprehensible, complex shapes with significant alphabets attached to them, whose significance I never quite figured out.

I would rush through those sections, praying that none would come up in the exams. Now, thirty years later, I am back again between these pages, amongst these unlikeable shapes. Now, I am doing this for the love of my youngest child, G. I remembered how much I hated studying these, so I want to make the learning experience as joyful as possible for G. I didn’t want her to grow old dreading big molecules.

So here I am, sitting at the kitchen table, rewriting her textbooks. I am adamant that she will not rote-learn the sequences as I did, so I took the story right back to the beginning, beyond the scope of the syllabus and exams, to come up with a system of learning that lights the fire in her.

Where did life begin?

We come from stardust, inorganic material from a cosmic explosion 13.8 billion years ago. But how did those cold, lifeless atoms become life?

She knew that first lifeforms were generally accepted to be cyanobacteria, but how did these ancient ancestors of ours come into being? How was life created from a soup of inorganic broth in the violent, young world?

As I began to retrace the paths of my long-ago days, I was, unexpectedly, suffused with happiness. For hours I sat at the dining table, halfway across the world from my childhood home, but remembering those wonderful days that my brother and I sat at the kitchen table in my mother’s sunny house in a little town in southern England whilst our mother bustled around helping us, making Welsh cakes. She had loved us so such, gave so selflessly, and in giving selflessly to my daughter, I felt the same happiness rising gloriously in me.

I never thought I would be doing this. I grew up believing that I am destined for great things, but I am becoming to realise at the second half of my life that the greatest thing one could do is to raise a family with love, rather than with resentment at the sacrifice. It is in this spirit that G’s father spends a large chunk of his week driving her around, from football practice to friends’ houses to parties.

I hope that in years to come, G will discover this surprise gift when she does the same for her child. I hope I have taught her to give selflessly, as my mother before me had given so selflessly. That is her legacy, transcribed in our maternal mitochondrial DNA.

It is indeed true that if one were never taught to give, one would not know how to do so. Perhaps it can be learned consciously, and it is a lesson well-worth learning because of the riches it brings.

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So what is life?

If we look at the basic building blocks of life, then it is something that has the innate ability to store, replicate and transmit information. At the heart of these processes is the ability to read and write the language of chemistry; all life processes are inherently chemical in nature. It gives us resilience and inheritance.

The simplest row of atoms strung together into a chain known as RNA (ribonucleic acid) possesses this innate ability for living, namely resilience and inheritance; life would be damned before it began without resilience and inheritance. The simplest RNA chains in which these qualities are supported were nucleotides made of a sugar with a base and a phosphate attached. Life began in earnest then.

This is why I don’t read Facebook

A couple of friends and I were sitting in a cafe in our children’s school yesterday and we commented on the fact that Facebook news feeds are full of posts such as “Seven things to do to avoid cancer”, “Drink this and you will be fine” or “If you don’t do this, you will die a painful death”.

Yes, it is good to be informed, especially on medical issues. Therefore I subscribe to Nature, New Scientist and BMA Journal, where the published articles are peer-reviewed before being published. Even so, for every 100 persons killed by chemotherapy/vaccines, there are 100 more who are helped by the modality. This is the nature of science – there is no absolute. Perfection or the right way is a moving target with more than one answer or solution.

When I was at Oxford, one of the astrophysics professors (a young and handsome chap) was a celebrated Fellow of The Royal Society based on his work on cold dark matter. A few years later, he fell from grace because there were doubts about cold dark matter. But these days, he’s flying high again ….does cold dark matter exist??? Who knows.

Similarly, if we were to believe in all we read back in the seventies, we would have stopped eating eggs and butter in favour of the healthier alternative called margarine. If there was Facebook at that time, no doubt the news feeds will be full of “Butter clogs up arteries”, “Eggs are bad for you”, “Eat margarine for a healthy breakfast”.

But today, we are all running back to good old eggs and butter and condemning margarine.

So we obsess, forget to live and start developing new disorders. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness of our age, and many seemingly normal people morph into hypochondriacs because they choose to be immersed in the huge ocean of articles and posts, majority with unsubstantiated claims, small sample set or statistically insignificant results. And let’s face it, if you believe that we are under attack from Martians, there will be very compelling articles out there to prove that yes, you are correct, watch out for spaceships the next time you step out.

As my super-calm partner says, “These are all consequences of the monkeys in the brain”.

How powerful are these monkeys? I had one Facebook friend, whom I don’t even talk to on a personal basis, flying from Kuala Lumpur to Phuket just for one day in desperation, to ask me this pressing question, “Do I have cancer?” Based on the large amount of time spent on social media and on Dr Google, she was convinced that she was afflicted with the disease.
More damagingly, many teenagers suffer from eating disorders these days, and that is no surprise, given that they are flooded with the message that everything they eat has harmful consequences on their health.

So bring on glamorous selfies (I like to see how the other half lives), food photos (to inspire a foodie like me) and jokes especially (because that’s why I read Facebook, to de-stress, not get more stressed up). And please think twice before sharing scare-mongering articles on health (unless it is your personal research involving hundreds of people over a long period of time) … because remember, no one knows anything for sure and it is counterproductive to get folks psyched up about something that is not necessarily accurate.

Here’s an informative article on anxiety in New Scientist – we inherit it and childhood events could well be the cause. Don’t pass it on.

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(Graphics from www.muttabouttown.com)

“Teaching Them to Find Beauty in Themselves”

Last week, when I was back in my hometown and staying at my parents’ house, I walked past my 14 year old daughter’s former nursery. Laughter and happy chatter assailed me as I walked past the high brick wall and wrought iron gates. I couldn’t resist peering in.

Inside, in the paved compound, about eight pre-school children were charging round energetically on a variety of mini transports, making a lot of noise. A young teacher valiantly managed his boisterous little charges as they zoomed round him boisterously in a sea of toy cars and toy trucks. He almost had his feet run over on several occasions by little wheels. It was a happy scene, what every childhood should be, despite this being in a school setting.

I was compelled to ring the doorbell to connect with this place once more.

For it was a happy place, and one that played a big role in G’s life. My niece Katie attended this nursery ,too, so we have a lovely sense of history within the warm brick walls. G was one when I moved back to my hometown. I was suffering from cervical cancer, and I had four other young children. I moved home with three of my youngest children. Moving home to a house within a stone’s throw from my parents’ seemed a logical decision, and it was. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

My children thrived despite my illness. We lived in a peaceful house not far from the sea, and within walking distance to my parents’ and brother’s houses. Every morning, we would walk to school together. Though it was physically and emotionally exhausting for me to be a single mother throughout the week, it was a happy time for us all.

Though I would have preferred to keep G at home with me – I do not believe in children starting school too early, because I believe strongly that home is the best place for them to learn – I had to send her away for a few hours each day in order for me to get some rest and to get my household in order.

G loved her little nursery. Storytime is run by Mrs. Janet Storey, who was a calm, strong presence in the nursery in G’s time. I was delighted to see Mrs. Storey still at the helm almost ten years later. One could immediately sense that she tolerates no nonsense, but there is an air of fair play and serenity about her.

Mrs. Storey, as serene as ever
Mrs. Storey, as serene as ever
Snapshots of Storytime Nursery with its sweet homely touches
Snapshots of Storytime Nursery with its sweet homely touches

Storytime Nursery was exactly how I remembered it to be. The classrooms were furnished like a home that is composed solely of activity-filled playrooms. Little touches of home are all abound, from the childish drawings tacked to the wall to misshapen clay statues to ornaments and toys. There was lots of artwork going on in this nursery, with chubby fingers pasting leaves or bits of coloured paper, creations that will be hung up on the walls to give it a colourful, homely ambience.

G used to love these art sessions, though she does not excel in the subject these days except when it comes to tribal war paint on her face and body before big athletic events that she is nervous about. Or designing my next tattoo. This is the extent of her artistic activity, despite the many hours spent cultivating it.

She couldn’t read when she left the nursery at five. In fact, she couldn’t read until she was ten. And I am eternally grateful to Mrs. Storey and her staff for not forcing her. You hear horror stories these days about competitive primary schools that expect five years olds to do written entrance exams.

“H is not for hamster,” G used to say stubbornly when shown the alphabet card hanging on the wall. “And that’s not a hamster, that’s a guinea pig!”

She was right, of course, because her father who is from South East London pronounced hamster as ‘amstah. Dear Mrs. Storey devoted her time teaching elocution, getting her collection of Portsmouth oiks and my Cockney child (as well as the well-spoken ones) to say “hot water” in three syllables instead of ‘or woer. I am pleased to report that in this endeavor of hers, Mrs. Storey had been successful: G is often complimented on her elocution. Here’s a short clip of her at five: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8RFONbabE6A

Though I am not an educator, I am a believer (from personal experience as a mother of four grown-up children) that the ability to speak well, charisma, charm and a touch of boldness should be included in every child’s success toolkit.  Sausage-factory education seems to be churning out bland, personality-less exam-taking machine that one begins to wonder, “What is the purpose of education?”

 

There is this famous Jesuit saying: “Give me a child for his first seven years and I’ll give you the man.”

There is no doubt that this little nursery had shaped my child in a beautiful, unusual way. She is physically confident, she speaks very well and she has an unbridled sense of curiosity about the world around her. Though she is not academic by nature (homework is done on the bed in the shortest time frame possible), she has great enthusiasm for learning new things. She speaks four languages, she is in the top set at school for all her subjects, she plays sports at international levels and she has won many trophies. I strongly believe that she is able to develop in this direction, because she was not forced to read and rote-learn things that should only come later in a child’s life. Indeed, she spent those precious early years growing other aspects of her being. A more focused nursery would not have the time or the space to allow her this sweet, beautiful exploration and organic growth.

In parting, Mrs. Storey said to me, “We cannot make children into who they are not. We can only help them find beauty in themselves.”

And dear Mrs. Storey, you have indeed helped my child find hers. Thank you. This is the happy, strong, confident, creative and fearless young woman you have helped nurture during her formative years. G: a force to be reckoned with.

G - a force to be reckoned with

 

 

 

 

 

A positive parenting/teaching style

Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 10.51.52 PMA few days ago, I posted about G’s father trying to help her with her homework, and although her father has a degree in Mechanical Engineering, had worked as a research engineer at the National Maritime Institute, and had taught A level Electronics in some of the best schools in England, she wasn’t just going to accept his word unquestioningly.

“I disagree with why you have to convert everything out of Newtons, Dad,” she said sullenly. “Seems a dumb way of doing things.”

My post brought in several messages from Asian mothers along the lines of “Aiyoh, you allowed her to challenge her father?” and “Your daughter must learn some humility.”

I agree, in part. Being a secret Tiger Mum myself, I could not have taught this child. And I am glad she has a father who has the patience of a saint, and a school that supports her learning style.

Today, I sat through a presentation by the Head of her school, the British International School, Phuket. Mr. Neil Richards spoke passionately about his vision. A couple of the things that resonated deeply with me were the following words of his:

 “I am committed to giving your children as many opportunities as possible to express themselves” and “Taking them beyond examinations.”

Yes!

Too often, schools and education systems (and by extension, teachers) are focused solely on getting their students to pass exams through memorising and rote-learning, thereby robbing the next generation of the opportunity to use their brains productively and richly. Learning to score top marks in exams without understanding the rationale behind the subject constitutes a narrow band of learning how to solve specific problems only, which given enough time, even apes can do. You don’t grow your brain by drilling for hours on past exam papers or memorising things that make no sense to you, just because some long-dead Professors said so.

“Teenagers are messy, they are control freaks. It is part of their DNA to want to take control back from the parents. We allow them to do so, but not too much too soon.” Wise words, Mr Richards, and the questioning, challenging and debating are all part of the process of making sense of the world around them, which they will be custodians of. We want to raise thinking leaders, not meek sheep.

My Richards spoke of his belief that Success = Attitude + Teacher + Ability. And surprisingly, Ability is only 20%, according to his 20 years’ experience as an educator. He believes strongly that all learning is emotional. How a child feels inside relates to how he will learn for the rest of the day. A child who is comfortable and happy in school will learn better throughout the day. And perhaps even influence his life’s choices.  Mr Richards himself was influenced by Mrs Griffiths, the history teacher who taught him when he was eight, and the positive influence she has on his life. And all Mrs Griffiths did was made the eight year old Neil Richards feel confident in himself academically.

The British International School in Phuket has succeeded in implementing its Head’s vision of creating a happy, comfortable place. The environment is indeed collegiate, non-threatening, sunny and relaxed. G, in her second week at the school, was not too intimidated by her new environment, and dared to put her hand up in class to correct her teacher. I give full kudos to that particular teacher, who was gracious enough to check the answer on the Internet, and concede that G was indeed correct.

G feels good in the school and I am confident that she will achieve great things, though she comes home and says that her teachers goof around in class. Today, I will tell her what her Head said, that this is all part of the grand plan.

 

Footnote: I am working on an article about teaching children how to think.  Follow this blog and read it, if you believe in raising thinking leaders, not meek sheep. And get ready for the questioning, the challenging, the debate. 🙂