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EMMA SAURUS

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Children who struggle with literacy can improve through parental help and a different approach to their learning, as explored by Emma Saurus.

My memory of Year 1 is learning the alphabet, writing a lot of wavy shapes (“You mean you wanted them between the lines? Geez.”), and using scissors with my tongue out.

Today, by the end of pre-primary, the Australian Curriculum expects children to write three-letter words and “experiment with capital letters and full stops”.

My peak pre-primary experiment was, “How long can I get away with speaking only in neighs and eating without using my hooves?”

From Pre-Primary to Post-Doctorate, your child will be assessed through their writing. In almost every subject, they will be required to demonstrate their knowledge on paper.

There has been a global early-education panic as studies show that children who lag in language skills in the early years tend to fall further and further behind their peers.

At the same time that literacy requirements are being shunted into earlier grades, the new overstuffed, micro-managed Australian Curriculum requires teachers to cover more topics than can fit into a school year (according to the Australian Primary Principals Association, “The overcrowded primary curriculum: A way forward”, and the Australian Government’s own Review of the Australian Curriculum by Donnelly and Wiltshire, both 2014).

The outcome is that if your child is not developmentally ready to gain those crucial foundational skills of reading and writing in Pre-Primary — and my son was not — teachers in later years are unlikely to have enough time available to help your child catch up.

It will be up to you to recognise that your young’un is struggling and provide the targeted help they need to get up to speed.

Any improvements you make
to children’s literacy skills will
have positive flow-on effects
throughout their academic
and professional lives.

Helping your child is completely doable. If you’re skilful, it can be a fun, bonding activity.

If your child has struggled to the point that they have become despondent about writing, or flat-out hate it as much as mine did, it can become a bribing activity. Whatever works! It’s worth it.

But the keyword for gaining cooperation is “let’s”, as in “Let’s do a writing game together.”

Here’s an exercise that can be used from toddlerhood. (I have even used it with children preparing for the Gifted and Talented exam.) If your child cannot yet write (or hates it), you can do the writing for them.

Some children prefer to be absolutely clear about what is expected of them before they begin. You can demonstrate it for them. Before long, they will will be taking the pencil out of your hand.

Curious Captions

 

You can’t become a great writer without knowing how to compose a strong sentence. This activity teaches planning, descriptive vocabulary, and even introduces the idea of revising and editing.

Choose a picture — a photograph of family, a picture from a magazine or the internet — and say, “Let’s write a caption to describe what’s in the picture. What do we see?”

The child might say, “Birds.”

In a list off to the side, write down ‘birds’, and prompt for more information.

“How many?” “What colour?” “What could they be doing?” You might end up with a list of words including: two, pink, dancing.

Say, “Let’s put these words into a sentence.” Read the list out, and try speaking a few variations.

Write out the child’s preferred phrasing. Talk about what was good about the sentence. Praise any powerful words.

If the child wrote it, praise them if they remembered capitals and full stops, or if they spelled words correctly.

Don’t worry about fixing any errors (though you could secretly note spelling mistakes for later teaching); this exercise is about encouraging expression.

If your child is still interested, you can say, “Shall we make it even fancier?”

You can add relevant vocabulary. (“These birds are called flamingos.”)

You can add description and invite your child’s contribution. (“They’re dancing elegantly.”)

You can add imagination. (“What could they be thinking or feeling? Maybe this one is a daddy flamingo and he just got home from work. Or maybe this one is saying, ‘Get out of my way!’”)

Write the new sentence under the first one. The more over-the-top you make it, the more enjoyable it will be.

If you want more suggestions from your child, find something good and useful in whatever they offer.

Older children are often asked to analyse images in English exams; this activity can prepare them.

If you use advertisements, it can also help your children begin to understand how some images attempt to manipulate the viewer.

Any improvements you make to children’s literacy skills will have positive flow-on effects throughout their academic and professional lives.

Powerful writing helps teens sound smarter in essays and exams. It allows young adults to write compelling job applications. It lets employees make client presentations more impressive.

Enrich your child’s writing. The investment will pay off their whole life long.

Letters of Complaint

 

If your child has difficulty remembering the letters of the alphabet, has trouble physically writing the letters, cannot holding the pencil with even pressure (giving faint, wiggly letters), or simply cannot recall spelling patterns after lengthy study, this requires a different kind of intervention.

American special educator Dianne Craft (diannecraft. org) has developed a program that can be undertaken at home to address these issues.

I used them successfully with my son, who was diagnosed with Dysgraphia in PrePrimary.

His writing was like giving birth: slow, painful, and messy.

When the occupational therapist gave her pronouncement, I thought, “Great, a diagnosis! That reassuringly fancy Latin label must mean that experts understand his condition and how to treat it. What does dysgraphia mean? ‘Difficulty writing’? I told you that when we walked in!”

Months of occupational therapy exercises did not make a difference.

One month of Dianne Craft’s method led to significant improvement.

My son no longer meets the technical criteria for dysgraphia.

If you are experiencing similar issues, please feel free to contact me if you’d like to discuss your situation: emma@emmasaurus.com.au

Emma Saurus helps students of all levels sound smarter.  She is based in Perth. Look her up at emmasaurus.com.au

When I asked my friend Nina if she’d heard of Constance Hall, her eyes took on the kind of look I normally reserve for chocolate desserts. “I’ve pre-ordered her book!” she said.

“Con talks about parenting like it really is. She says we should embrace our queenliness, not our failures. We should be helping each other, not judging each other. So that’s why I like her. And because she says ‘fuck’ a lot.”

Constance Hall, tragicomic blogging queen, has an army of Facebook followers that includes Ashton Kutcher. Her page’s comments are full of women enjoying a good swear. Her critics are also vocal and vicious.

Constance has broken ground by breaking the Mummy Rules flagrantly and frequently. You know the Mummy Rules. Did you change yourself to keep them? They may be unspoken, but break them, and maybe no one will chat with you at the school gate or invite your kid around for play-dates. There are consequences, so you stick to the rules. Unless you are Con.

“This is who I am,” she says, simply. Her warm, husky voice makes me remember conversations shouted over loud music with my arms around friends. “I’ve always been a big swearer. I have strong opinions, and I don’t really hold back. 

“I noticed, as soon as I became a mum, that I was expected to just lose a huge element of myself. I found that really strange. So, I never changed. I got judged a lot.

Her writing went “as viral as herpes”.

“I think people naturally would love to judge you, but once you have a kid, people feel like they can judge you, because you’re not just controlling your life, you’re controlling the kid’s as well. So it gives the judgy parents these open gateways to go to town on you. The only thing that I do differently is that I don’t really care.”

Actually, Constance’s notoriety is based on how much she cares – about connecting honestly with other mothers. And Constance is well-qualified to talk about motherhood. As well as a teenage step-daughter, she has four small children: Billie-Violet (aged 7), Arlo Love (5), and twins Snow (a girl) and Rumi (a boy, 2). On her blog, she describes how her twins were conceived a month after separating from and reconciling with her husband, right after making a decision not to have any more kids. Constance chronicled her struggles on Facebook, and it turns out that many parents appreciate her irreverent candour. As she put it, her writing went “as viral as herpes”.

It would be easy to dismiss this former Big Brother contestant as an attention-seeker if she didn’t have such important things to say. Supermarket magazines feature celebrity post-birth slim-down speed records, as if weight loss is a more important achievement than the creation of a new life. Constance shares pictures of her mum-body in underwear with nothing sucked in and talks about self-love.

“I think we’re allowed to love our bodies,” she says. “I had a realisation after having the twins – that my whole life, I had put a lot of value on my weight. Even my psychologist said to me one day, ‘You know, all you ever say is that you’re going to lose some weight, and then you’re going to do this and this and this. Maybe losing the weight isn’t the answer.’ And I was like, ‘What? It’s always the answer! Losing five kilos makes everything better!’

“Having the twins played a huge part in realising that, because I was almost defenceless. I was stuck. With all my other kids, I was like, ‘Okay, cool, I’ve got one baby, I’ll go back to work.’ I lost the weight, I did everything properly. When I had two babies, I opened up a hairdressing salon, lost the weight and kept going. Then when I had my twins, I couldn’t even go to the shops, because I had the C-section scar, me and Bill weren’t talking to each other; it was just horrible.

“I cried all the time. After a while, I just surrendered to it and went, ‘Hang on, I actually don’t need any more than this. I don’t need to have a cool career that I can tell people about at dinner parties, and I don’t need to be extra-fit, and I don’t need anyone to think that I’m a super-mum. I just want to hang out with these kids, ’cos they’re really cool.’ Six months later I felt so different about the world, myself – everything. It was really quite healing.”

Now Constance has put her mummy manifesto down on paper in her book, Like a Queen. When asked why she decided to publish her work, Con said, “There are a lot of trolls on the internet. It’s a nasty place.

“There were things I wanted to say about my relationship with Bill, about things that happened during motherhood that were either too long for a post, or they were too intimate, or they were too scary. But while I was writing the book, I felt really uninhibited because I realised that the person who would be reading it would be a beautiful woman lying in bed, flicking through pages with a glass of wine. It’s not a horrible arsehole on the internet just waiting for the chance to tear me down. So it was much more of an intimate experience between me and my girls.”

Supermarket magazines feature celebrity post-birth slim-down speed records, as if weight loss is a more important achievement than the creation of a new life.

This from a woman whose website features a picture of herself on the toilet, who has described post-birth incontinence and the size of her nervous poos. Constance, there were details you were holding back?

“You get so much hate on the internet. I’ve talked about infidelity, and all of a sudden I get fifty emails from these arseholes going, ‘Only a fucking slut cheats.’ So there are certain topics that I don’t really have the energy to write about online.

“I wanted to say, ‘You can fuck up. You can have someone fuck up on you, but things can be okay. And if they’re not, you’re still going to be okay, because I’ve been there.’ I thought it was really important to get that message across, because I know first-hand how many women are struggling out there. They tell me privately. I get these personal emails all the time.”

Another Mummy Rule broken, Constance! No-one else will tell you about ‘parent sex’, “Where you position the bed to have one foot against the door because for a loud bunch of kids, yours can be pretty quiet when they’re sneaking up on people.” Nowhere else will you read an argument against slut-shaming asserting that sexually liberated women make the best wives. “Would anyone want a wifey that didn’t love love?” asks Constance. But mummies are supposed to shut the memories of their wild years away in a cupboard with hefty locks.

“I loved having a lot of sex when I was young. My husband loves hearing that,” Constance laughs. “Men are seen as heroes because they’ve shagged half of the town, whereas women are tainted goods and are untouchable because we’ve had too much sex, when that’s absolute rubbish.”

“I loved having a lot of sex when I was young. My husband loves hearing that,”

Constance’s husband, Bill, features regularly in her writing. Con announced Bill’s vasectomy on her blog and posted a video of him dancing because “he thinks he’s getting a root”. 

“Bill is a show-pony,” she giggles. “He loves it. He gets this little grin on his face when I read him a blog and read the comments. I wouldn’t do it if it offended him or if he ever asked me not to. He thinks he’s the star of this show, not me.”

“Honestly, in my household, Bill’s the clean one. We fight all the time over housework, because he thinks I should be doing more, whereas I’m not that fussed about a messy house. I’m like, ‘I can live with that pile of dirty washing. I want to go to the beach.’ And Bill’s like [she puts on a deep, gruff voice], ‘You can’t go to the beach because the house is a pigsty!’ And I’m like [high voice], ‘Well, you do it!’ My house looks like <i>shit<i> at the moment, and I just walked out.”

Most of us could not bear to have our lives scrutinised to this degree, but Con does not know the meaning of ‘too much information’. She lets us know her intimately, exposing the details of her daily grind, allowing her readers close enough to share their struggles. She helps us laugh together about the same things that make us cry alone. Her Facebook comments are full of women expressing gratitude for the feeling of community and acceptance she creates. Her work is a reality check for the parenting experts who push for perfection.

One fan comments, “Constance, after every book I read I’m always inspired to change, be more organised, eat healthier, [be] a better mother … But your book didn’t make me want to change a thing about myself.” By fiercely baring her vulnerabilities and daring the reader to judge her wanting, Constance forces us to confront the things we judge in ourselves.

“We’re not living up to our expectations because they were too high,” Constance argues. “People just don’t talk about their struggles. Rather than saying, ‘Are you okay?’ it’s much more healing to say, ‘I’m not okay.’ Because then the person in front of you, instead of having to take that step of saying, ‘No, I’m not okay,’ they actually go, ‘Oh, me neither.’ It’s so much easier to say, ‘Me neither.’ So, whatever I’m struggling in, I try and share, because then I get a lot of women going, ‘Yeah, me too.’

“Me and Bill, when we had our first baby, we were living in this small unit. It was only two-bedroom. Then I got pregnant again. Bill was earning whatever he could as a carpenter, and I was just going, ‘What happened? How come everyone’s in these million-dollar houses with flash cars?’ Even my best friends, they had the most beautiful interior-designed houses. When I get to their house, they’re like, ‘Oh my god, we’re mortgaged up to our fucking arses. We fight every day. We can’t even afford to buy the good milk; we have to buy the cheap milk.’ But you need to get really close to people before you learn all of that. On the outside, everyone’s lives look amazing. And it’s stressful, because you can’t keep up.”

“I think people naturally would love to judge you, but once you have a kid, people feel like they can judge you, because you’re not just controlling your life, you’re controlling the kid’s as well.

Forget keeping up with the Joneses, Constance was kept up by the twins regularly.

“It was horrible,” she said. “Every half hour one would wake up, and then twenty minutes later the other one would wake up. Bill didn’t wake up ever. In the mornings I was like [her voice high and desperate], ‘Bill, I haven’t slept <i>at all<i>.’ And he was like [her voice low and gruff], ‘Yeah, well, I’ve got to go to work.’ And I was like [even higher], ‘Fuck off! I have not slept!’ Sleeping is a necessity. It’s like saying, ‘I don’t need to eat, because you work.’ It’s just ridiculous.”

“I think that, if I can see the funny side, it’s going to be okay. My girlfriends and I have a competition about whose life is worse, whose husband is being the biggest dickhead, who’s had less sleep. I always win.”

Constance has used her considerable influence to assist women worldwide. She and her followers raised $200,000 to build a house for sexually abused Kenyan girls through the charity Rafiki Mwema. She said, “It has actually been a life-long dream of mine to help in some way.”

A one-woman movement against competitive mothering, Constance Hall proves that you don’t need to know how to spell to write astoundingly well. Her work brings together women across the globe in a celebration of real life, real bodies, and giving #nofucks.

What are we teaching our children about their bodies?

“Pleasure is an essential daily nutrient”
Jena la Flamme, Creator, Pleasurable Weight Loss

Two Australian women want to change the way you think about your body. Why? Because there’s fun to be had, and you can save on your children’s future therapy bills to boot.

Today even models and celebrities are Photoshopped into impossible perfection. If you want your kids to be content in their own skin, as sure as legs are hairy, you’re going to have to model how.

Taryn Brumfitt, founder of the Body Image Movement, urges us to change our thinking, not our bodies. Maven of the pleasurable weight loss movement Jena la Flamme reminds us that we are animals with a physical need for joy.

Taryn

With three children under her belt, feeling depressed about her post-baby belly, Taryn Brumfitt took herself to the gym. After months of gruelling work, she strutted her buff stuff in a glittery bikini and heels on stage in a fitness competition. She achieved the kind of body most women think, well, that they should have.

Taryn was preparing for breast surgery and liposuction when she asked herself what message it sent to her daughter. That question stopped her cold and sent her in an entirely different direction. Taryn’s before-and-after pictures went viral. They turned the ideal upside-down, showing her transformation from glamazon to happy, curvy mum. Sure, if you can’t get rock-hard abs you may as well love yourself as you are, but why would anyone choose flab over fab?

“Trying to maintain a body that is not your natural body shape takes a lot of hard work — you might even say obsession,” says Taryn. “There were too many sacrifices, for me personally and for my family.”

“There was a lot of time I didn’t spend with the kids — I was going to the gym every single day for hours. I was so restrictive with what I was eating that I’d have to make two meals a night, and I was incredibly grumpy. There’s just more to life than having that body.”

Taryn could not stomach the idea of her young daughter loathing her own body. And so another of Taryn’s babies was born: the Body Image Movement.

My stomach smiles after surgery

“My Developing Daughters, Supporting Sons seminar teaches parents how to empower their children to think more about what they contribute to the world than what they look like. It’s changing how we value ourselves as parents, and we model that to our kids.”

“What language do you use at home? Little comments send a message, like when a young kid hears their mum say, ‘I don’t want to have my photo taken today. I look terrible. I’m fat.’ Parents should never underestimate the power of their words, on both sides of the scale, positive and negative. We have to take responsibility.

“My body is not an ornament. It’s a vehicle to my dreams.”
Taryn Brumfitt, Film maker, Body Image Movement

“It’s super-important that we value our own bodies. My body is not an ornament. It is the vehicle to my dreams. Get some perspective and have some gratitude. What will you be thinking about when you take you final breath on this Earth? No one has ever answered: their cellulite or their deflated breasts.”

“Get off the scales. We should strive to be healthy, but being healthy is not the same as having a bikini body. We have been given a distorted message of health. It is not just physical.”

Taryn also sees it as vital to talk with children about media and advertising.

“Growing old is a privilege. The lines on my face remind me that life is short and the bucket-list is long. So many people’s lives are cut short through illness, and the rest of us are worried about looking old?”

“It all comes back to money and trying to sell something. They’re trying to sell this idea that we should be sexy and hot, and here is a product that will help. We need to armour our children by building a foundation of values that is not based on what they look like, so these negative messages don’t infiltrate their decision-making or the relationship they have with their bodies.”

“Growing old is a privilege. The lines on my face remind me that life is short and the bucket-list is long. We are told to defy the wrinkles on our face, and it is just so absurd. So many people’s lives are cut short through illness, and the rest of us are worried about looking old? I think we’ve been brainwashed into thinking that there’s something wrong with our evolving bodies, and there simply isn’t.”

Jena

It shouldn’t be shocking for a woman to eat a packet of chips on-camera, but somehow I felt like I was watching something R-rated when I saw Jena la Flamme demonstrate her favourite way to enjoy crispy potato goodness. (Turn the packet upside-down to redistribute the salt. Genius!)

Ex-pat Jena is the creator of the Pleasurable Weight Loss movement. While her work is pitched at the lucrative and large market of women unhappy with their bodies, her approach is more philosophical. She teaches a sensual and playful approach to life.

“I was bulimic by the time I was fourteen. I would enjoy food, but feel guilty about enjoying food, over-eat and then purge in secrecy and shame. What healed me was when I said, ‘No. Pleasure is needed.’ Pleasure is healthy.”

When we talk about females feeling good about their bodies, we still kinda mean feeling good about the way we think we look to others; our self-image. It seems revolutionary to talk about feeling good about your body for the pleasure it allows you to experience. This is not something that many young people hear, and Jena was no exception.

“I was given the message that pleasure is a once-in-a-while reward. You definitely need to earn it; you’re not just entitled to it. It’s potentially dangerous. What did that result in? I was bulimic by the time I was fourteen. I would enjoy food, but feel guilty about enjoying food, over-eat and then purge in secrecy and shame. What healed me was when I said, ‘No. Pleasure is needed.’ Pleasure is healthy.”

“I realised that when I over-ate, eating stopped being pleasurable. It’s when pleasure ends that over-eating begins. When you eat for pleasure, and you really focus your attention — because that’s what pleasure requires; attention — you just eat the right amount.”

“Our culture has said for thousands of years that a woman who is really engaged in her passion and self-esteem is a dangerous thing.”

“Our culture has said for thousands of years that a woman who is really engaged in her passion and self-esteem is a dangerous thing. Why is that? When you feel good, you feel powerful, you feel free. You don’t let people push you around. All of that comes to life when you pursue your pleasure. You eat the foods that really work for you and nourish you. You choose friends that nurture you. You choose supportive partners. You are honest with yourself and with others about what you need.”

“If you’re feeling like, ‘Oh, my body’s disgusting. I’m going to love my body when I lose weight, not now,’ that is important to address, because that is the fundamental shift that needs to occur: to start loving and respecting your body as she is.”

“Realise that your body is not a possession of your mind. Not something that you and your thoughts get to judge. The truth is that if it wasn’t for your body pumping your heart, your lungs, keeping you going, there would be no mind to look in the mirror and say, ‘You need to lose ten kilos before I can love you.’ You’d be dead.”

The idea of pleasurable weight loss has shock value, because we’ve been so accustomed to thinking that punishment is the only way to lose weight.

“It is pure arrogance to be so disrespectful to your body. You may say, ‘The truth is, I don’t love how my body looks.’ Okay. Find a deeper, heartfelt gratitude that your body keeps you alive and gives you an opportunity to start afresh every day. That is basis enough for an infinite amount of love.”

The idea of pleasurable weight loss has shock value, because we’ve been so accustomed to thinking that punishment is the only way to lose weight. We have a culture that prides itself on suffering.

“We’re happy to talk about how much we’re going to punish and deny ourselves, but we’re embarrassed to say, ‘I’m gonna get a massage, sleep in, take a hot bath, really take care of myself, and that’s how I’m going to lose weight. Because when I do that, I’m not going to need to eat and drink too much because I’m going to be having such a damn good time in my body that I won’t be attracted to those things.’”

“The secret sauce of pleasurable weight loss is erotic innocence, which is your attraction toward everything that makes you feel alive.

“The secret sauce of pleasurable weight loss is erotic innocence, which is your attraction toward everything that makes you feel alive. Before you knew that there was any reason to feel guilty about pleasure, you were innocent. We can consciously create space for erotic innocence in our lives by asking, “What if I took the guilt and shame away from pleasure? What would I really enjoy? Where would that lead me?” This shifts unhealthy habits, old body images and moods, and it transforms us.”

Taryn is in the final stages of producing her Kickstarter-funded documentary Embrace. Help her spread her message across the world at www.bodyimagemovement.com.au. Explore your erotic innocence at www.pleasurableweightloss.com.