Friday, 1 July 2016

Classic School Project: The Castle!

It's every model-building dad's moment of crowning glory... the year 5 castle project. We've come to this moment after many years of simpler, compact, constrained project builds. Who remembers the 'Design an Olympic Torch', or 'Props for the World Book Day costume', or even as far back as the 'Easter Bonnet' of nursery years.

Medieval Britain engages the children unlike possibly any other period of history. Tudors? Yawn, Egyptians? Ugh! And don't get me started on either of the world wars, the victorians or pre-history.

We have, on our doorstep, castles of every era - from the deserted mounds of the mott & bailey, through to solid Norman fortifications. Climbing spiral stone staircases, shooting imaginary arrows through very real arrow slits and spotting enemies from the battlements. I don't think it's easier for a child to immerse themselves in history for any other period of Britain's past.

Side note: I went to a castle in California(USA) once, it was nearly 60 years old and had wifi. It made me realise, in that underwhelming heartbeat, that British history is something to cherish, protect and create anew for future generations.

So the castle build had a special meaning for me and my 3 children. It was worth 5 'extra homework' points, and we resolved to produce the best castle in the class.

How to make a Medieval Castle

Part 1: Planning

A medieval castle needs some key elements to be recognisable, and authentic:

Must haves:
  • Thick walls
  • Drawbridge
  • Portcullis
  • Arrow slits
  • Moat
  • Battlements (crenellations)
Optional extras:
  • Raised mott (hill the castle sits on)
  • Great hall
  • Dungeon
  • Tower
  • Privy (toilet)
  • Archery equipment
  • Stocks for criminals
Deciding on what to include in your model is fairly straight forward. Take the above list and work down the must-haves. Aside from deciding on the base to use, which will determine whether a mott is possible, the optional extras can be added at the end of the build if you have some time left over.

Now you'll need to decide on the scale of the castle. Considerations include how to get the castle from home to school, how much cardboard you have ready and what you want to use as a base.

We used an artist canvas from Hobbycraft, which was £7 and had a fairly sturdy wooden frame. We then used a Lego man to work out the dimensions of the castle. 

Printing out a few images of castles, castle walls, castle features - to have handy and available to reference when designing the castle is useful. Note: we found flipping through images on an iPad each time we wanted to check what a feature looked like was slow, frustrating, and potentially ruinous to an iPad when gluey fingers were involved.

Part 2 : Construction

As is the tradition in our school project builds - and every other build so far - we start with a pile of cardboard boxes, of as many different shapes and sizes as possible. These would range in size and strength from thin cereal boxes to solid packing boxes that larger domestic purchases provide. All free of charge and easily collectible over the course of a few weeks of normal daily life.

Make sure to hang onto empty Pringles tubes, toilet rolls and kitchen roll empties. Cylindrical structures feature prominently in castle building, providing much-needed strength to hold a structure together and repel invaders.

We used the Pringles boxes to layout the corners of our pentagon-shaped building. Then cut inner and outer walls from thick cardboard, and used packing tape to attach them.

We had a longer cardboard tube, which made it an easy decision to add a watch-tower as one of the corners.

You'll also see that both the cutting of the walls, and arranging the basic shape was done by eye without any precise measurements. I think this adds to the authenticity of the castle, as many were built around the land on which they sat, rather than designed on paper to be perfectly symmetrical and even.

When building the structure, it's good to take advantage of the materials' strengths, without worrying up-front about the finished form. With the intention to use paper-mache as the final covering, we didn't have to worry about using packing tape and waxed cardboard - which are typically very difficult to paint over. We've taken this approach on most of our cardboard projects.

The next step was to create the battlements. Taking the Lego man as a guide, we wanted to have a recognisable structure to the top of the castle. Here we(I) made a big mistake, which wasn't noticed until later. As we cut the square shape of the battlements, it made sense to bend the offcut cardboard into the centre of the wall, and to add a strip of cardboard over the top to create the walkway for archers. Only at painting time did we notice that the walkway needed to be below, and not in line with, the bottom edge of the battlements. So the walkway needed to be the height of the Leg man's legs below the battlements... whoops! But it was too close to the deadline to re-work this all round.

You'll notice in the above pic that we had added the frame for the entry gate. This was created from a suitably sized single box with the archway cut into both sides. We kept the bottom of the box in tact to help with alignment and some rigidity.

Into this we cut a slot in which the 'Portcullis' would slide. The Potcullis was fashioned from lollypop sticks and hot glue. My good friend Isobel, who is an accomplished Decopatch expert, was given the task and came up trumps with a highly realistic construction. A braided string pull cord was attached, to allow the potcullis to be raised.


The drawbridge was added with a couple of strings attached to another stick which, when threaded through the entrance gate box would allow the drawbridge to be raised. The drawbridge needed to be more rigid than our thickest cardboard, so we added more sticks to the sides and front - giving that all-important authentic wooden beamed appearance.

A couple of extras were added at this stage. The watch tower received a roof and a 'princess parapet', which was a little too 'Disney' for my liking - but we took a vote.. and it stayed. The construction was copied from the 'Privy' construction that my daughter had pioneered earlier.


You'll also see the added detail around the arrow-slits. It's important with cardboard and paper-mache modelling to add a little 'relief' to the model. This helps to bring the square cardboard to life, and allows for creases, angles and depth to added to the model.

We went on to add even more rectangles of cardboard to the flat walls, to add texture and give the impression of uneven stone blocks in the walls.

Inside the castle walls we added a great hall and a stone staircase to access the battlement walkway. Both of these required a little planning, and a couple of unsuccessful prototypes before we felt that the scale and size of each was just right. The great hall has a hinged roof and a cut-away front wall, to let people look inside.

To add more interest to the interior of the castle, we added arched cloisters which were cut into the inner walls. It's the simple additions, or details like this which I love about modelling. We didn't plan them from the start, they just seemed like a good idea when we looked at a rather bland inside wall. This fits into the learning lesson for the kids called... "It doesn't have to be perfect at the design phase".. more latterly known in software terms as 'Agile Development' and 'Minimum Viable Product'.

And now the baseboard. Using the time-honoured method of chicken wire and paper-mache, we fashioned a hill with a fairly flat centre area, and let the paper-mache dry. We wanted a moat, to make sense of the drawbridge, but opted for a river to save space and maximise the size of the castle.

The chicken wire was held up by cut down drinks bottles underneath, and was stuffed with scrunched-up newspaper. A few layers of Duct tape held down the edges of the chicken wire, and secured the sharp edges safely. This is a job for adults, as an end of chicken wire easily draws blood if handled carelessly.

The base board was then spray painted with green craft paint, ready for the final arrangement.

Once we were happy with the castle build, we set about paper-mache-ing the whole. This was the biggest, and most 'fun-to-boring' job of the project. Having already paper-mached the baseboard, some of the fun of gluey strips of paper had worn off. And dealing with the intricate shapes of the castle was a challenge. The children won't mind me saying that, although they put in some sterling effort before bedtime one evening, they were perhaps 25% through the task. I burnt the midnight oil to complete the job, whilst 'improving' some of the work they had already done.

After a couple of days to let the full, and rather wet model dry out, it was time to paint again. Spray paint is your friend for easy coverage of large and complicated models.

While the castle paint dried out we set about adding some interest to the baseboard. I wanted the river to be as realistic as possible. Just painting the bottom blue wouldn't have kept me happy, so we invested in something that I previously didn't realise exists... "Realistic water". A favourite among model rail enthusiasts, who hanker for a village pond diorama. It comes in granular form, and simply needs heating up in a temporary saucepan. When heated enough it becomes a gloopy liquid which can be poured into any concave space, wherein it solidifies and looks remarkably water-like. You can even add ripples by using a similar fake water product on top. One cautionary note here... you will throw away any saucepan that you use for this, as the 'water' sets like concrete almost immediately on whatever receptacle you use. We are one saucepan light in the kitchen now.

Having 'damned' the ends of our river bed and added some modelling gravel, we poured in the melted water mixture. Although the mix reacted with the gravel and frothed a little, it settled quite nicely into a flat moat-like form. One end of the river fell away from the relief of the land, so couldn't contain the fake water. So again, as an 'on-the-spot' decision we decided on building a wooden damn as a point of interest for the model.


The next job was to paint the castle. With a variety of shades of grey and grey-brown paint, the castle began to come to life. We used thin permanent markers to draw the outline of the stone wall blocks and then cut foam sponges to print light-shading onto each stone. I think it came out quite well - from a distance it's quite effective. Up close it's a bit rough and ready.

We used an old tin of garden furniture paint for the drawbridge and great hall roof. I liked how it looks, but it did kill a few paint brushed and one t-shirt when a bowl of the paint tipped over.

With the baseboard and the castle ready, it was time to join the two parts. I used a combination of hot glue and PVA to seat the castle on the board. We then had to add some fake grass, stuck down with spray glue. It turned out that the green craft paint that we sprayed on the base-board was a little too shiny and luminous, and anywhere the fake grass (which you sprinkle on from a height) wasn't thick, the green paint looked odd. But on school projects, you need some non-perfect aspects - both as learning lessons for next time, but also to make sure the child presenting the model can discuss how he/she might have improved the model along the way.

Another note to mention here is that the child presenting the model in class needs to have been 100% involved in all stages and aspects of the construction. This may mean that, in this case, my son did anywhere between 10% and 100% of the work at each stage. But that he could accurately describe what was done, how it was done, and how we decided to do each stage.

He also had to give full credit to his helpers, and indicate truthfully how much help others had given him along the way. I see this not as a cop-out, to explain a glorious model that 'Daddy made', but a vital life skill - to own a project, make decisions on that project, and use the resources (both materials and people) to complete the project to a high standard. The usefulness of this skill is as relevant for tomorrow's workforce as is the skill of individual/solo production. 

So with the castle and baseboard conjoined and the grass and other scenery added, a couple of final touches were needed to bring the whole piece together. Fake bushes were added along with a mix of PVA glue and fake gravel, around the base of the castle. This helps the castle not look as if it were plonked on top of the board, but had grown up from it. And everyone knows that castle walls have boulders and bushes at the bottom, from previous sieges and for baddies to hide in, respectively.

We added archery targets, a table in the great hall, and a dungeon sunk into the centre of the courtyard. Add a few flags, designed by each helper on the project, and there you have it. A rather special and memorable castle build.


The presentation of the castle to school the next day was met with awe and wonder from the other children. A very proud 10 year old went on to describe his and our efforts, and the castle took pride of place in an exhibition at the parent's evening a few days later.

It's fun and rewarding to spend a lot of time together as a family, to deliver a result like this. It distracted all of us from gaming consoles and TV for the best part of two weeks. This build will go down in our memories as the best project yet... until the next one.

And my proud 10 year old received double points for this 'piece of homework'. 10 points, in the bag.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Cruel or Kind ? You decide!

Hello fellow parents! I had a great chat with some friends over lunch yesterday. We always have a good laugh together and share parenting tips. But yesterday they told me a story that left me speechless...!

I'd love to hear your opinions about this little story. I was horrified...

Father: "Daisy, did you know that every 7 years your parents are allowed to choose a new name for you?"

Daughter (nearly 7 years old): "No, really?"

Father: "Yes, every 7 years your parents can change your name and then when you get to 21 you can change it yourself to whatever you want."

Daughter: "Ok."

Father: "So when you turn 7, we're going to change your name to Plop-plop."

Daughter: "What?"

Father: "Do you want ice-cream for desert?"

Daughter: "Yes please."

Father: "If you want ice-cream, you have to sign this contract, agreeing to the name change."

Daughter: "I don't want to."

Father: "Well, no ice-cream for you then."

Daughter: "Er, ok, I'll sign it."

Father: "Good, thank you for signing the contract, you know this is legally binding and from next Tuesday, your Mum and I, and everyone at school will call you Plop-plop."

Daughter: "But wait... that's not fair!"

The Father in this case made a strong argument to me that it was a good life lesson. Daisy got to learn about contracts, what her signature means, commitment, trade-offs and long-term vs. short-term.

They have a good solid and frequently jokey relationship, which reduces the sinister tone that I was afraid of in this exchange. But I'm certainly not going to be using this as an go-to lesson for my kids. Predominantly because I try to never lie to my kids, not even to wind them up. I think it's important that I mean everything I say, and that I always follow through on promises.

The above exchange seems to contravene that approach, but it does get the message across in a punchy and memorable way.  It also gives the whole family a good chance to use Daisy's alternative name 'Plop-plop' for comedic effect later on!

I'm not sure who's right on this one. What do you think?

Your kids are amazing... but, what are you doing about it ??

I only ask the question because sometimes I don't feel like I give my kids the credit they deserve for the things that they do.

In the course of a busy week, the kids certainly feel that they've achieved things, had successes and "won" at whatever they were doing. As adults it's easy to miss the importance of these small achievements, and let large achievements fade into distant memory.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs describes the different levels of human motivation. We all need to have
basic needs met before the next level becomes important. For example, if you don't have a roof over your head, you probably aren't worried about not having lots of good friends. The levels are as follows:

1. Physiological - food, shelter, warmth
2. Safety - personal, financial and health
3. Love/Belonging - friendship, intimacy, family
4. Esteem - self-respect, recognition
5. Self-Actualization - being the best you can be

Luckily in my kids' world, we have the top 3 levels nicely covered. We still have to work hard to fulfill those needs, but our children are priviledged to not need to worry about levels 1 and 2. Level 3 is also present, whatever kind of family structure you have, the focus for most of us as parents is to make the children feel loved.

So what else do they need? Well, level 4 seems to be our next goal. Building, in our children, self-respect, giving them recognition, and instilling self-confidence are the next most important needs.

NOTE: "Being the best" is level 5 - not level 4. It's important to remember this. To address level 4, we should purposefully avoid merging our actions to try to meet level 5.


Strict Level 4: "Well done Daisy, you were amazing! I was very proud of you. How did that feel?"

Mixed Level 4 & 5: "Well done Charlie! You won! You've got a great chance of winning at the national championships!"

The difference is simple. Recognise the children for what they have done, in that moment. Avoid projecting future success, or future potential into the picture.

Ways To Recognise Your Children : Good vs Bad

Adults sometimes have a difficulty in recognising different types of success. I was reminded of this when my youngest was struggling a little with his spelling tests. It was clear that he wasn't putting the work in, with enough attention to detail, and was going into the weekly test not 100% confident.

We worked out a plan, which involved daily short sessions, with tests in the 2nd half of the week - so that he could see how well he knew the spellings well before the formal test.

This was initially somewhat onerous to administer daily. But with suitable encouragement it became a daily habit that had (almost) perfect results. The encouragement that we gave him was not...

(BAD) "Well done for getting all the spellings right!" - which you could only say after a few days of hard work... but instead...

(GOOD) "Well done for sitting down and concentrating on your spellings!".

The difference here is in recognising effort and attitude, not success. Success should come at the end of a lot of effort, so why wait until the success happens before you recognise and reward. And what do you do if a child fails, or doesn't win?

Here are a few ideas to add to your daily list of positive encouragement:

"Well done for turning off your bedroom light this morning!" - in front of the other children who didn't.

"I'm very impressed that you always get ready in good time for the bus!" - rather than being annoyed on the odd occasion when they forget their PE kit.

"You're really getting into your maths today! You've been at it for 45 mins! Well done!"

"You looked like you were trying really hard at training today - you were flying along!"

"Thank you for being patient and not interupting. Now, what did you want to ask?"


There is a song in the wonderful Theatre Show of 'Matilda', written by Tim Minchin, called 'My House'. A line in the song (and seeing the stage show) inspired this rather awesome tip.

"On these walls I hang wonderful pictures"

Miss Honey sings this in her small, run-down shack of a house. In the stage show the pictures were drawings that the children in her class had drawn for her. I stole this and applied a little extra oomph to the sentiment.

Most family houses have a pin board or a fridge with lovely kids drawings, newspaper cut-outs, and maybe a certificate or two. That's great, but I wanted to fill my house with motivation and memories. So we took it up a notch.

I set the children a challenge at the beginning of the year to produce something worthy of framing and putting on the wall.

We had a few empty picture hooks to fill up (a different story all together), and I wanted to put up something meaningful and beautiful. I could have gone over to IKEA and bought a random canvas picture of a pleasant photograph, like I did when we first moved in. But DaddyDaddyCool runs a different ship now!

First up on the wall: Aaron's Owl
It took a little while, but the first picture that went up was a painting by my middle son.

This was closely followed by a pen-drawing of Pudding Lane by my youngest.

My eldest was a little stuck, as at secondary school their art was being done in an art book that couldn't be sliced apart until the end of term.

But the next thing that I wanted to put on the wall wasn't art. My youngest got an unexpectedly good report from school and a special prize for science & technology. Guess what?... those went up on the wall, in a frame, too!

Not art, but still worthy of framing: Reggie's Report
Now everyday he walks past that picture frame with the glowing teacher comments in it. Knowing that I thought it deserved its place on the wall, and that I'd gone to the trouble of buying a frame, mounting it, and adding it to the collection. Extra bonus: frames are very cheap these days!

I can't think of a better way to recognise his effort and his improved attitude to school!

By the way, it makes me proud everytime I walk past it too!

Just this morning, I framed up a special achievement certificate which my eldest received last year. There was a time delay because I was away when this event - the national maths challenge -  happened. When I suggested that I frame another achievement certificate that she received as "Best in year 9", she objected and pointed out her more impressive former achievement. I conceded and we framed a 1 year old certificate which shows her as "Best in the country". I added a little extra 'Wow!' to this framing, to make it even more special.
Mia's "Best in the UK!" Certificate deserved its place on the wall

I'm secretly hoping for some more artwork to put up, as there are still a few bare walls around here. The positivity and motivation, that framed certificates and school reports give, can't be denied!

So if you are looking for home decorating ideas, which are guaranteed to make you feel good, and will help tick off one of Maslow's higher-ranking needs for your children, then go ahead and start framing awesome stuff - DaddyDaddyCool style!

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Fitness made simple for dads

I've just read a load of supposedly helpful posts about fitness, which don't half get confusing when you try to put all the advice together.

So I thought it might be useful to put into a simple blog post the simple rules by which I try to stay fit when looking for guidance or inspiration in the gym or elsewhere.

My simple fitness rules:

1. Set yourself a challenge - one that's hard but also fun - and recruit one or more pals to the same challenge

2. Train to meet the challenge over 3,4.. 6 minutes months.

3. Don't worry about what you normally do for fitness - if you're working towards a good challenge you'll have to change your regime anyway.

4. Eat to meet the challenge - with the right balance of carbs / fats / proteins, and at least one blowout day per week.

5. Moderate your caffeine, sugar, alcohol - except for special occasions.

This is the way to keep moving forward, not hate your fitness routine, have a life, and achieve some impressive goals - collecting stories along the way.

Examples of my recent challenges:

2011 - Complete a sprint Triathlon
2012 - Fight in local inter-club Muay Thai event
2013 - Man vs Mountain 23 mile race over Snowdon
2014 - Get stronger (at 40) than I was at 25 = 105kg bench press & power clean
2015 - Complete "Tough Guy" extreme obstacle race

In 2011 I could swim 2 miles in a session and run a 21 minute 5K.

In 2012 I hit 84kg and had fantastic cardio for fighting 3 rounds of 2 minutes, full contact.

In 2013 I was 85kg and running up to 40 miles per week at a comfortable 8 mins per mile.

In 2014 I hit the gym three times a week, religiously following a targeted strength program, and crept over 92kg.

In 2015 I will need to get used to ice-cold swimming, conquer my claustrophobia and overcome my fear of electrocution. Can't wait!

You'll find yourself in different shapes and sizes depending on the challenges you choose, and this is more empowering than the constant pressure that we're under to look like a "Men's Health" cover model. Doing what it takes to meet the challenges, overcoming your set backs and having a load of fun with friends along the way is just the best way to keep in good shape and stay healthy.

Muay Thai: round 3
Man vs Mountain: Man won!
Triathlon: Uh oh! I still have bike & run to do!

An added bonus is that motivating impact that it has on your children. They see you setting goals, training for them, and achieving them. If a little of that rubs off on them, then you'll have set them up for a rich and rewarding life!

So find a challenge, recruit some pals, and GO FOR IT!!!

Come dine with ... us!

One of our most memorable Staycation activities this summer was "Come dine with me!". We modelled the Channel 4 program to create a fun half-day activity - perfect for adding some interesting video segments to our Staycation video!

The format is simple: 1 course per child, with cooking, tasting and voting, all on camera.

As my three lovelies are 8, 11 & 13, the courses were allotted on a difficulty basis.

8 y.o. worked on melon and parma ham starter.

13 y.o. attempted a full roast chicken.

11 y.o. worked on chocolate coated strawberries for desert.

There was general agreeement over timings, so that the kitchen wouldn't become a war zone. And all the cooking was supervised to a greater or lesser extent by me (the responsible adult!).

Some ground rules were established upfront a few days before the competition.

- All ingredients had to be written down on the 'shopping list', according to the recipes
- All utensils, cookware and presentation plates had to be assigned to minimised double-usage

With these in place, and the shopping done, we were all ready. I was on hand to help and keep a photographic record.

All the 'cooks' did a great job and kept relatively calm under pressure. My three thrive on competition, so great care was taken to do their absolute best.

NOTE: Some children thrive on teamwork and cooperation rather than competition. So judge for yourself how the 'competition' should play out.

Just before the meal was ready we drew up scorecards to hold up on video, to give an extra visual impact to the footage. And with that, the first course was served.

Starter: Reggie's Melon & Parma Ham

A nice simple, family friendly, course - involving washing, cutting and arranging - perfect for an 8 y.o.

The judging was carefully considered after the first course, with most criticism coming down to an under-ripe melon - rather than the expertise involved in getting it to the plate.

Main Course: Mia's Roast Chicken with all the trimmings

An ambitious project, even for a 13 year old. Her speciality is normally baking cupcakes, but she threw herself into this one. With a bit of help from me on timings, she worked diligently to the plan, delegated a few tasks (to me!), and put on a really impressive spread.

Again the judging was fair and honest, and there were almost all positive comments, with everyone particularly enjoying the chicken and pigs in blankets.

Desert: Aaron's Chocolate Covered Strawberries with Strawberry Couli

Always a crowd pleaser, the chocolatey strawberries went down very well, and a well executed couli was an added delight. All the children enjoyed this course, but tactical voting had now set in, with very low scores from some judges.

Nevertheless, Aaron's desert was a big success.

The Final Verdict!

The final scores were:

Reggie - Starter : 17 Points
Mia - Main Course: 17 Points
Aaron - Desert: 19 Points

Aaron won by a very small margin - and was very proud of himself. The others, despite some tactical voting, did agree that he had done a very good job.

All in all, we had a great afternoon with this really fun and different activity. I'd recommend it to anyone with one or more kids. Even if the adults have to compete to make it interesting!

Monday, 20 October 2014

Teach your kids how to find out EVERYTHING! Seven Brothers Game

In the world of Sales and Consulting, the 'Open Question' is king!

Open Questions, as we know, elicit a non-digital (yes/no) response. Used effectively, they can open up a world of hidden information, opinions and feelings. They're also great to use with your kids!

Closed Questions are like this:

- Do you... ?
- Are you... ?
- Can you... ?
- Have you... ?
- Will you... ?

The seven Open Questions are like this:

- Who... ?
- What... ?
- Which... ?
- When... ?
- Where... ?
- How... ?
- Why... ?

We'll call these the 'Seven Brothers'.

The 'Seven Brothers' game, which you can play with your children is simply a challenge to ask seven questions, covering each of the seven brothers, in a conversation - without being found out!

To get them into the spirit, change up your normal after-school round table of "What did you do today?" discussion, with a Seven Brothers approach. For each child, who is telling you about his/her day (the interviewee), let each other member of the family (the interviewers) ask a different open question to uncover more detail about the questionee's day. You'll be surprised how much more you learn about their day!

Once all the children (and adults) are familiar with how to phrase open Seven Brothers questions, it's time to start the game...

Whenever you are having a 1:2:1 or group discussion, when one person is speaking, the others try to ask open questions, naturally and without arousing suspicion, until all Seven Brothers have been asked!

If the interviewee recognises that Seven Brothers is being attempted, they will say something like "Enough with the Seven Brothers!", and they win.

If the interviewers manage to get all Seven Brothers questions asked without suspicion - they win, and it's high-fives all round.

Playing the game is especially fun for older children with younger siblings, because they get to practise on an unsuspecting and less aware individual. Although the game creates winners, the losers don't feel so bad, because they just got to either try to ask good open questions, or they got to explain a subject to their siblings/parents in much more depth than is usual.

Of course, the game is a distraction from the serious learning message. Children and adults do well in life if they are curious, interested in the details, and don't spend all their time talking about themselves. This wonderful little game gives them the tools to be great conversationalists, great consultants, great managers, and simply great people to be around!

I don't know of any plastic game in a carboard box which teaches such an important life skill!

Answering Kid's Questions - DON'T DO IT!!!

In a previous post, we talked about how to reduce the persistent "Daddy?.. Daddy?.. Daddy?.." of a child with a question to ask. Let's take a look at how to answer their questions... or not!

We know that children are better than adults at certain tasks, and science has proven why they can figure out gadgets more quickly than adults. Have you ever played 'Concentration' or 'Pairs' with a 4 year old?  They are formidable opponents at this age.

But the sum total of their knowledge is not broad, and they ask questions to help them grow their knowledge.

This can be frustrating for a parent. A 4 year old girl might ask upwards of 300 questions per day.

So how do you answer these questions, to give your child the best start in life?

I'll define two approaches, and you can decide which approach to take at each opportunity. There is no one answer, but the more you can use 'Approach 2', the more you are teaching them a skill, rather than imparting a piece of knowledge.

Approach 1

The simple answer!  Example...

Q. "Dad... what's for dinner?"
A. "Lasagne and salad."

Informative, quick and easy answer. Learning value out of 10 ? 2 out of 10.

Approach 2

The challenge !

Q. "Dad... what's for dinner?"
A. "Can you guess, from the ingredients on the worktop?"
A. "What food has layers of pasta in it?"
A. "And what could we have on the side with our Lasagne?"

Teaches the skill of deduction, forward-thinking, and to work out answers for themselves. Learning value ? 5 out of 10.

So now we can apply the same approach to something more, erm ... meaty!

Try this on the list of top 'Difficult Questions' from a survey back in 2010.

Number 1: How is electricity made ?

Approach 1

Q. "Dad... how is electricity made?"
A. "There is a big windmill, and the wind blows the windmill round. The windmill blades are connected to a turbine, which is like a backwards electric motor, and that makes electricity which is sent down the power cables into our house."

Simplified and easy to understand. Learning value: 4 ?

Approach 2

Q. "Dad... how is electricity made?"
A. "Do you know anything that makes electricity?"
--  "The windmill at the business park?"
A. "How does it turn the wind into electricity?"
--  "With an electric motor?"
A. "That's right, but electric motors normally use-up electricity don't they? How is that one different?"
--  "It's backwards ?"

And so the conversation continues. With the child being encouraged to think about the problem, to uncover the knowledge. Learning Value: 8 ?

BONUS TIP: If you don't know the answer to a question, which approach is going to work best? Yep, Approach 2. Because if at any stage you find you can't guide the child towards the answer, you can both look up the information. The child not only uses his/her skills to find the answer, but also feels great by teaching their parent something they didn't know!

Now... a word of warning.... Approach 2 takes longer. Much longer! If you are trying to get your children out of the door to school, or trying to get them into bed on time, then either postpone the discussion, or skip to Approach 1.

And Approach 2 takes a bit of getting used to, for adults and children alike. Be prepared to encounter a bucket full of "I dunno"s and "Can't you just tell me the answer?"s. But stick with it. It takes time for them to build their skills, but it is very, very worth it - the first time they work something out on their own!