The year seems to go so very quickly and it seems that once we have settled back into a routine after one set of school holidays we are preparing for another.  It is the final half term before the big summer holidays and quite frankly my son is ready for a break from the school system.  My son has a decidedly laid back approach to writing, which I am sure will be an issue at parent’s evening tonight, it is not that he hasn’t got the ability or the content – he just wants to be able to take longer than the restricted time allocated to writing.  As a writer myself I can see where he is coming because deciding what to write about and making sure that it is something that is worth reading can often involve a lot of thinking, correcting and changing the title until it sounds just right.  The pressure to write has increased in intensity as the year has gone on and my son has revolted against it by writing coded letters to the fairies requesting that the teachers are turned into bubbles and blown away so he doesn’t have to write any more.

Before he went to school, my son told stories all of the time and tales of Mr Spider and Pimpa Pimpa were shared between him and his granddad.  He enjoys every other aspect of school and is very capable at maths, reading, comprehension, listening and speaking and spelling but writing is his bugbear.  The last parents evening I attended involved a lot of discussion about SATs and I felt a wave of stress come over me, until I remembered that he was only in year one and he wasn’t going to do SATs until next year and the big ones for another five years.  It is such a great shame that even in a school that values play the pressure to teach to the test always wins out in the end. This is most definitely related to the impact low SATs results has on a school’s OFSTED grading, the ironic part of all this is that secondary schools only use Key Stage SATs results as a weak guide to the groups they should be in.

It really makes you wonder why the Government has harped on about the importance of play in the early years only to begin hot housing them when they start school.  The pressure to compete with other countries has meant that passing tests and ticking boxes has become the sole purpose of teaching and learning.  When you read articles about how play can incorporate all aspects of learning such as this one by Playdale Playgrounds celebrating the learning potential of sand and water.  I am afraid that this need to test all of the time is going to take away the excitement of learning and gradually switch children off.

I guess I am just going to have to start installing an enthusiasm for writing in my son and hopefully this will be just a phase he is going through.


It never ceases to amaze me how acronyms can shrink major things into a small simple word.  Often we forget what the letters stand for and only know what they mean.  MLD is tiny little acronym, that I have become very familiar with over the past few months, in fact I had never heard of it before.  Now I know that it stands for metachromatic leukodystrophy and its effects are far from tiny.

In a nutshell MLD is a genetic disease where the sufferer lacks an enzyme, that is also known as (ARSA), which breaks down the build up of sulfatides in the central nervous system.  The build up of sulfatides results in damage to white brain matter and the destruction of the myelin sheath, preventing the brain from communicating with the rest of the body. The disease progresses like a thief in the night, stealing away movement, speech, sight, hearing and eventually leading to total paralysis and premature death.

There you have it – the scientific explanation of MLD, but what does it mean if your child is diagnosed with this rare condition? I should imagine that it is a little bit like being stomped on by a herd of wooly mammoths, then feeling like a petrified rabbit staring at a huge articulated lorry coming towards you – and that is just the start.  Parents whose children are diagnosed with MLD are caught in a whirl wind of shock and disbelief and are so busy trying to come to terms with the disease and the emotional turmoil that by the time they feel ready to talk about it, their child has already been taken away from them and all they feel is shock and grief. By using all of the empathy I possess – I could never truly understand what it is like to watch your child disappear before your eyes.

I am not exactly sure if the disease progresses at the same rate for everyone who suffers it, but from what I have witnessed it doesn’t mess about and can paralyze a child in less than a year, after they show the initial symptoms of the disease.   Diagnosing the disease early is difficult because the sufferer tends to develop behavior traits that are similar to ADHD and their naughtiness causes health professionals to look in the wrong direction to find out what is wrong with them.  Children are not routinely tested for MLD so early diagnosis tends to only occur if a sibling has already been affected.

Remember the science lessons where you learned about genetics in terms of eye colour and peas with a funny mark on it?  Well getting MLD is exactly the same as that – it is determined by two parents carrying the faulty gene and literally throwing the wrong dice.  If the odds are against you – your child will get MLD but if you have a lucky strike then your child may just be a carrier.  There is nothing that parents can do at the moment to check if they are at risk of having a child who will inherit MLD.  Support in the UK is very small and the profile of MLD needs to be raised and government agencies pestered so that something can be done about it.

If your child is diagnosed before the onset of the disease there is the possibility of gene therapy, which is quite experimental but fingers crossed it does the trick.  However this ground breaking treatment is not available on the NHS and costs a packet – far more than any family can afford.  The only way we can raise funds for this type of treatment is by raising awareness of MLD, this is a job that cannot be left to parents of children with MLD because they are too busy dealing with the disease and spending as much time with their children that they can.

If you have been affected by MLD and are interested in helping to raise its profile please feel free to leave a comment or visit these site dedicated to MLD.


I have to say that I truly love my son’s school, they never cease to amaze me with their desire to promote natural learning as much as possible.  The school has a shiny new website that is updated regularly allowing parents to see exactly what their children are getting up to.  My latest visit to the Allithwaite CE School website informs me that they have developed a lovely quiet area with raised beds for planting food to harvest, a mud kitchen, outdoor games tables, benches and lots of wood chippings.  This information was reinforced when I picked my son up from after school club and he ran into the quiet area and with great excitement told me all about how they were going to grow food and how you can sit and relax with your friends.


I am a firm believer that children need to find their own way to calm down, relax and find inner peace in their own way.  Learning to let go and let the chaos of the world clatter around you is a skill that is necessary in this technical age where everything is quantifiable and has to have been done yesterday.  The education system has forced schools to be concious of testing children so that they can gain a good OFSTED result so that pressure does inadvertently filter down to the children.  As someone who finds it impossible to switch off and truly relax I have been trying to encourage my son to develop these skills while he is young by allowing him to be a bit slobby at the weekends, not making a big deal about homework and spelling tests. I have told him that the holidays are a time to rest so that he can look forward to a break from intensive learning.

The outdoor games tables, which are similar to these by Playdale have made the quiet area look like a potential picnic area, where children can gather round and be sociable.  Even if there are not always dice and counters available the children will be able to look at and trace the numbers on the snakes and ladders board. My son has a great sense of ownership in regards to the school playground equipment and would quite happily sleep there if it meant that he could play with his friends even longer.

I am a little envious that they have installed a mud kitchen because making mud pies and playing with mud and soil was something I really liked to do when I was my son’s age.  My mum informs me that I when I was a child I could never wear my best clothes until just before we went out because I just got muddy and messy so easily.

It is going to be so exciting at Harvest time to see the vegetables they have grown.  My son just finds the world so very exciting and it is a joy to watch him learn and grow.


When I ask my son what he has done at school each day I feel really sorry for the teachers because all he remembers is everything he has done at playtime and who he has fallen out with.  What he doesn’t say is that he enjoyed the English lesson that the teacher spent hours planning last week or that he felt fulfilled by the fact that he finally understood a mathematical concept that had been difficult to grasp.  At the moment the most exciting thing about school is the new sand pit and swing that has been fitted in the playground.  I am actually delighted that my son gets excited about such simple pleasures because it just goes to show that however enthralling a computer game is there is nothing like swinging in the air or sculpturing a fantasy land in a sandpit.

My son is a very cautious child who didn’t fall over very much when he was a toddler, however he seems to be collecting a lot of grazes and bruises on his legs at the moment indicating that he is getting more adventurous and daring.  I asked him if he could swing by himself and apparently he can swing three times by himself, which is fantastic.  If you look at the science of swinging it is amazing how much the body benefits from such a pleasurable activity.  Children also learn how to take turns and how to encourage each other to swing higher. If you also add the feeling of flying into the mix you can see why swings are still such popular pieces of playground equipment.

My son is also raving about the sandpit, which is pretty big and covered when not in use so that the local cats don’t contaminate it.  If there was a sandpit club after school my son would be first to put his name on the list, he totally loves constructing fantasy worlds, digging and covering himself with the little particles.  When my son started school the thing that made him very happy was the fact that the reception class could still play in sand during the day and on a visit he told the teacher that they needed to put more sand in the sand box.  He is in year one and sand play is not part of his curriculum so the sand pit in the playground is like a dream come true for him.

My son loves school and is always excited to arrive in the morning and reluctant to leave at the end of the day.  I only hope that he finds learning fun for the whole of his life.

Spring has finally sprung the sun is shining and finally the rain is holding off long enough for us to enjoy the great outdoors.  When I pick my son up from school we will be spending time in the playground with all of the other parents and children.  Having a wonderful playground so close to the school is wonderful because it allows the children to expel the pent up energy they have saved while working hard at school.  My son and his friends are definitely ready to spend after school running around outside climbing on the playground equipment and digging holes in the mud.  Hopefully being able to play in a more open and freer environment will help him and his best friend to stop bossing each other about and getting each other’s backs up.


Play England have devoted a whole section on the benefits of outdoor play because they believe that it is important that children learn skills that cannot be learned easily in the classroom.  Apart from the obvious health benefits of climbing on playground equipment and getting lots of exercise, children also learn how to interact with others and deal with conflict.  Playground equipment also offers the opportunity to conquer fears about height and balance.  Children also enjoy the freedom to abandon the playground equipment and find parts of the playground where they can hide and play imaginative games.

Visiting the playground as a parent can either be a sociable occasion where you chat to other parents or you find a quiet place to catch up on some work you need to do on your mobile phone.  Leaving the playground generally involves lots of time warnings and watching your reluctant child clamber on every piece of playground equipment before they reach the gate, only to forget their shoe and spend the next ten minutes looking for it.

Often we read statistics in the press as to how much a mother should be paid, if her role was a job rather than a labour of love.  It is always concluded that a mother would earn a healthy sum of money, in the region of 30 to forty thousand pounds, due to the amount of work that goes into the job of being a parent.  Many parents find their role challenging but rarely consider time spent caring for their children to be a job.  When your child is young it seems that your role of a parent is pretty straight forward but as children get older their emotional needs increase and our input is even more important.  Often time or lack of it prevents us from being the ideal parents that we would like to be.

Saatchi & Saatchi conducted a survey of 1,022 women in December 2014 and surveyed a further 1,800 mothers through Mumsnet to find out how mothers perceive their role.  They looked specifically at the eight emotional roles of parenting which include; carer, coach, hero, safe house, friend, partner in crime, fan and rule breaker.  When questioned almost 100% of the mothers agreed that all of the roles were extremely important but admitted that they rarely spent more than 10% of their time with their children fulfilling these roles.  The graphs below show that being a carer outweighs all of the time spent carrying out all of the other emotional roles.



The survey also found that 51% of mothers fulfil all eight roles all by themselves, so it is hardly surprising that being a mother feels a bit pressurised at times.  Ideally mothers would like the role to be shared more equally with their partners giving them time to have more breathing space.  We don’t live in an ideal world, but children do need to know that we are there, come hail or shine, and that we are human too.  If we were to perceive the role of parents as a job then we would probably perform badly, where targets are concerned, because a lot of what we do for our children is not quantifiable.

I have to admit as my son is getting older I find that my role is becoming much more complex and more often than not, it is hurt feelings rather than hurt knees that I am having to put a metaphorical plaster on.  I miss the simple days of going to the playground and watching him explore the playground equipment without a care in the world.  Now I have to make sure that he does his homework, looks presentable and help him to find ways to deal with bossy children without falling out with them.  In the morning when I take him to school I sometimes feel like the worst mother in the playground but that is probably how we all feel.

Interactive playgrounds aren’t something you see every where yet so when you do find one it can be quite a treat! The mix of traditional play and a new, exciting interactive element gets kids really eager to try it out. Interactive play is both challenging AND fun, and offers another encouraging way to get children fitter!


Another good aspect of it is that sometimes competitive sport can really only nurture the natural first team players and others can get left out or left behind.  But equipment like this is much more inclusive and gets everybody involved in a more relaxed way. Physical exercise for children is obviously hugely important, especially with the current obesity rates. This is a great way to get kids moving without them even really realising they are exercising.

Hopefully they will make a welcome change to video games. It will be great when more of our playgrounds include some interactive equipment!

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May 2015
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