Saturday – just the day for lying around (ok, lying around AFTER football, shopping, homework or housework, emptying the dishwasher, taking the dog to the vet). But for children, it can sometimes turn into open-ended screen time. So how about supercharging the screen time by throwing in a couple of covertly educational videos? Less of the skateboarding dogs on YouTube and a bit more of the Charles Darwin life story, or exactly where did Captain Cook go on HMS Endeavour, or what made Caravaggio such a great artist. Sweetie, it’s just 10 minutes! Then of course you can show me the video of the rabbit being eaten by a python.
Leonardo da Vinci died today in 1519. They don’t come around very often, people like him. Artist? Scientist? Inventor? Maths brainbox? That relentlessly curious mind meant that he wanted to know about everything. It’s worth remembering that he was barred from going to school as a child because his parents weren’t married (big no no back then) and so he never learnt the ‘accepted’ way to think. Instead he just thought for himself – and with what great results! As he put it “Learning never exhausts the mind.”
I don’t know if Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus had obsessive-compusive disorder but he certainly knew how to keep things well-organised and super tidy. Today in 1753 he published Species Plantarum which marked the birth of plant taxonomy, a boring name for a brilliant way of organising plantlife, always using two Latin names (for the genus and the species, like Homo Sapiens). Brainboxes and scientists refer to this as binomial nomenclature And now you’ve read this, you can too!
Dear Robert Fitzroy….think of him today on the anniversary of his suicide in 1865. He took HMS Beagle on its famous journey with Charles Darwin onboard as a gentleman companion for the voyage. He was a pioneer of weather forecasting – sounds boring but it was actually ground-breaking at that time. The Royal Navy made him a Vice-Admiral but he suffered from depression and this led him to kill himself at only 59. An undeserved ending of a meaningful life. Read This Thing of Darkness by Harry Thompson, one of the best books I’ve ever read. Full stop.
Spare a thought for the brilliant and tenacious navigator, Ferdinand Magellan! He gave the Pacific Ocean its name which means peaceful. It was! Compared to the big seas he’d sailed through. He died today in 1521 in the Philippines, a long way from his home in Portugal. But his ship and crew finished the journey he started, and became the first people ever to sail all the way around the world. They almost starved to death on the way. Check out his life story and then grab a colouring page!
Nomophobia, that is. The newest scare out of Asia warns us that the anxiety children go through when separated from their mobile phone – nomophobia – is a reminder of just how indispensable this tool has become. But doesn’t everyone feel a bit droopy after a day in front of the computer or tv screen? A swim, a drumming session, kicking a football, whatever it is that breaks the motionless gawp has to be good for body and soul. Listen, I’m trying to sell short films here, so business-wise I’d rather hear that 24/7 tv is great for your health and brain – but we all know moderation is the key. And choosing wisely what you look at on screen. (Ahem – check out our films…)
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.