Having children is an education. And I don’t just mean that it teaches you stuff about yourself. It also teaches you stuff, full stop.
My son Joe has been revising for a history exam and here’s me, with History O’ Level (B) almost 30 years old, helping him.
First thing to know is that it was the end of Plantagenets (Richard III wiped out) and the start of the Tudor dynasty (Henry VII won).
Second, you’ve gotta watch the excellent Horrible Histories song about Richard III which makes you laugh and makes you remember.
And third, if your child is 12 or over, you can sit him or her down with an ipod and play BBC Radio 4’s podcast of In Our Time: The Battle of Bosworth, where clever professors discuss the ins and outs of the battle and the run up to it with Melvyn Bragg.
Do all that and you’ll be able to write an A* essay on the battle, its causes and its consequences. Easy!
My father, despite being born in 1925, when things were very different from today, is a remarkably open-minded man. And by and large, he’s passed that on to his children. At 87, he’s open to every type of person, most kinds of modern music, all kinds of exotic foods and new ideas too. It makes life so much more adventurous if you can say, ‘nope I’ve never tried a backwards flip off a diving board, but I’ll give it a go’ or ‘I’ve never heard of quargs – what’s that all about?’ ‘Brazilian food? Let’s give it a try!’ Even in geopolitics, an open mind comes in handy. Peter Oborne’s new book, ‘A Dangerous Delusion’ set out the positive case for Iran just at the moment when we’re being taught to think they’re a bunch of baddies. So I think with children, one of the great gifts (apart from the numero uno, self-confidence – if possible coupled with modesty) is an open attitude. Check out the facts as much as you can, and make your own mind up. It’ll stand them in good stead.
Around this time of year back in 1953, Frances Crick and James Watson unravelled the secret of DNA. We moved on so fast, we’ve forgotten what an epic discovery this way, something like Newton discovering the laws of gravity. But this was a turning-point in science and something that has brought benefits to all of us, and pushed human understanding a whole leap further.
Mention DNA to a kid and I’ll bet they’ll be preparing to switch off as soon as the words are out of your mouth. Shame, because, explained the right way to a young listener, the history of DNA and genes makes a great story. The good old BBC has nailed the topic in a brief 4 minutes here and it’s well worth a watch.
So, on a rainy weekend, why not watch a NowYouKnowAbout ten-minute film about some science greats – Pasteur, Newton, Galileo, Darwin – and follow up with the DNA story and show how determined people, fuelled by curiosity, hard work and relentless tenacity, can really make a big difference.
Why learn a poem?
1) Good workout for the brain cells
2) Handy to have in your head if you are ever taken hostage or trapped in a lift or down a well
3) Poems often have useful life tips or clever ways of looking at things
4) Can cheer you up when you don’t have your ipod, a book or anyone to chat to
NB I cannot think of a SINGLE situation when quoting poetry (however tempted you are to show off) is cool. It’s just for personal use. Actually, on second thoughts, Churchill got away with it (“Say not the struggle naught availeth” by Arthur Clough, quoted 1941)
How to learn poetry? As a teacher, I learned that people learn in different ways; some by writing it down; some by reading it out aloud; others by making visual patterns of the words in their head.
My 12-year-old son has to learn a poem every week. Now he’s pretty quick (his memory muscles are like a six-pack). His fast way is to listen to it with earphones – over and over again until the rhthym and the sounds seep into his head. Try it and see how fast it is.
If you ever think how many junk lyrics you’ve retained over the years (“At first I was afraid, I was petrified, kept thinking I could never live without you by my side” etc) you’ll quickly see just how easy it it.
A bit of advance preparation before a museum, gallery or city vist can make all the difference to how your kids react. Just turning up at an art gallery and walking through rooms of paintings is not the best way to do it. Take 3 famous paintings that are on show at your local gallery. Pin them on the kitchen wall. Find out about the artist who painted them and tell your kids the story.
We do this with our short educational movies about Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Goya, Leonardo da Vinci and Gainsborough. Rembrandt actually went to see the doctors cutting open a dead body to prepare his picture and your kids can imagine the sight, the smell and the sound of that gory business.
Darwin’s fossils? B-O-R-I-N-G, your kids might think. But no! Not if you’ve watched our movie about Darwin’s life, his huge trip on the Beagle, riding on giant turtles and getting seasick. He found lots of interesting stuff in the countries he visited and he carefully sent them all home to England – where you can see them. Amazing! And those fossils are part of what led him to his theory of evolution.
All this stuff is interesting – you’ve just got to deliver it in a fun and appealing way.
Where I am, sunflowers are turning their faces to the sun as they grow ever taller. It was this bright, strong flower that first triggered the idea of making a simple, colourful film about the life of Vincent Van Gogh. Not a book, a film – requiring minimum effort to sit back and enjoy but giving maximum quality in terms of mind-broadening general knowledge.
If you are 8 or 10 and you’ve never had an art lesson on Van Gogh, how can you know about his wonderful ‘Sunflowers’? For parents or teachers, our ten-minute film on Vincent’s rollercoaster life – highs and lows all the way – tells you all you need to know about this fascinating man and the great legacy he left behind.
This summer, grab a sunflower and draw it at the kitchen table with your kids. Then tell them about the man who is famous for painting a bunch of these. Show them NowYouKnowAbout Vincent Van Gogh from our series on artists, and your children will for evermore remember his name, what he did and, even better, that he painted that lovely picture for his best mate, Paul Gauguin. Nice guy, that Vincent.
Vasco da Gama? Who he? I can hear you asking. Today in 1497, this Portuguese ultra-daring explorer set off on an epic journey to be the first man to sail from Portugal round the tip of Africa and on up to India. What’s the big deal? Until he did this, no-one knew you could do this journey by sea. Instead, everyone trudged via Constantinople and overland to India, loaded up with spices and precious stones and then had to make it back – alive and without being robbed. So da Gama opened up the sea route and changed the way trade developed – and made Portugal very rich in the process.
Now we can go everywhere, of course, so the immensity of this journey is lost on us. But back then, it was ground-breaking and he is still regarded as one of the great explorers, up there with Columbus and Magellan and Cook. The fact that he was a nasty SOB is neither here nor there at this stage in history – he is still famous for his seafaring exploits.
Parents, grandparents, teachers and the generally curious can learn and find out more in ten little minutes with our jolly film which tells you Vasc0 da Gama’s biography and why he is well-known even today. Just check out our film – NowYouKnowAbout Vasco da Gama.
The big news out of CERN, the nuclear research lab is that they’re pretty sure they’ve nailed the Higgs Boson – aka the God particle. I can barely understand a word they’re saying and conceptually I am completely lost (never any good at physics). But all of us can recognise that this is a big deal for science.
With nanotechnology, stem cell research and particle physics zooming ahead, there’s no more exciting time that now to get your young children into the wonders of science. But how? Not by trying to explain sub-atomic particles – even with oranges and apples to demonstrate, that’s just too tough!
Why not get inspired by this news to have a science-y kind of week at home this holidays. Start in the kitchen, every mum’s very own lab, and examine water: it’s liquid – drink it. It’s solid – smash it into pieces. It’s gas – watch it billow up out of the kettle. Simple but that’s the 3 states of matter all wrapped up in a flash.
Follow that up with a bedtime watch of the fun biography films of famous scientists like Isaac Newton, Galileo, Marie Curie or Louis Pasteur and you may just sow a science seed in your preschooler’s young brain.
And they might just begin to look more closely at things around them and ask questions. I think that’s the first step on the road to CERN.
D’you remember the poster or picture that hung on your bedroom wall when you were a kid? The chances are you’ll have spent several hours over the years contemplating that image – whatever it was (even the girl in the tennis dress scratching her bum).
So now the holidays are here, if you’re into a bit of lite culture for your family, think about this simple and effortless learning tool for children – one that slides a bit of culture right under your children’s noses, without them even noticing.
Take 5 of the world’s most famous paintings – or just your favourites ( my bunch included the Mona Lisa, Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, The Toilet of Venus, Leonardo’s The Last Supper and Caravaggio’s Supper At Emmaus) and stick them (A5 size is best) on the wall at eye height in your kitchen, right next to the table where your children have breakfast, lunch and supper every day.
After a few months of looking at them, liking or hating them, discussing what’s going on in them, those images will be ingrained in their minds. Better than looking at kitchen tiles. Or a daily dose of cartoons. Interesting, too.
Don’t forget: you can find out more about artists in our movie biographies of Leonardo da Vinci, Van Gogh, Goya, Gainsborough and Rembrandt. www.nowyouknowabout.com
It’s great to think that the scientist Isaac Newton made all his ground-breaking discoveries at a time (1642 – 1727) when there were no hi-tech tools. Just shows that you don’t need fancy gear to have great ideas. He worked out that light is made of different colours – as in a rainbow. How? By shining daylight through a hole in the door and onto his prism. Your kids can split light up too! Here’s how:
1. Put some water in a shallow dish.
2. Prop up a small mirror in the water at an angle.
3. Place the dish near a window and position the mirror so that sunlight hits it.
The light passes through the water and bounces off the mirror, making a faint rainbow appear on the wall.
And while they’re at it, why not learn the colours of the rainbow? Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain = Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet.
I like this science experiment website for kids.
Follow this up with a quick watch of our ten-minute film about Isaac Newton for ages 6 – 100. Factually accurate, funny and informative – a clever way to spend the afternoon!