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“You give me 45 minutes of reading and I'll allow you 30 minutes of PS4 time.”

“I’ll read for 30 minutes but i get an hour to play.”

“How about 30 minutes of reading for 45 minutes?”

“Fine! But you know, all my friends get to play for as long as they like!”

I clearly have absolutely no clue whatsoever about the Art of Negotiation, as my ten year old son has, once again, stricken the best deal for himself. I, on the other hand, have easily given in because 30 minutes of reading is better than nothing. 

These Wall Street style deals are a daily occurrence in our household. I'm perfectly aware that this may be perceived as bribery. What kind of parent has to resort to bribery in order to get their child to read? The desperate kind. The kind of parent who is utterly frustrated because they have a child with bags of potential. A child who has one year left before his 11+ exams and who has zero interest in getting his English up to scratch.

Tim (let's just call him Tim because it's short and sweet), has a very logical brain. He's sharp, sporty and good with numbers. He hates art, music, drama and reading. Basically, anything creative. He does well in all his subjects but his refusal to read means that his English could do with a really good polish. He complains about every single book. It won't take him more than a couple of pages before he decides that the book is "boring". In fact, we are lucky if he gets through the first couple of pages because he literally judges the book by its cover. 

I'm told it's a boy thing. Is it really though? I know so many boys who love to read. Perhaps the 'boy thing' is a term that desperate mothers like me came up with to make themselves feel better, like they are part of a community of other equally desperate mothers. Strength in numbers and all that. 

  Tim's sister is the opposite. She loves all things creative and always has a book in her hand. As a result, English has always been a breeze for her. She writes beautifully, with no intervention from me when she was younger. She just got on with it. She aced her exams and secured places at her top 2 senior schools.

Tim's reluctance to read is reflected in his English comprehension and creative writing. He doesn't read well between the lines, therefore unable to really understand those subtle nuances in the text. His punctuation is appalling. He is able to write an entire creative writing piece without a single comma in sight.

So here we are, a year before those dreaded exams. I admit, I am very concerned. I have no doubt Tim will blitz his maths but operation Gordon Gekko (hats off to Michael Douglas in Wall Street. I needed a cool name.) will have to start ASAP in order for him to reach his 11+ goals.

Step one of operation Gordon Gekko was to sign up to Exam Insider. Tim has completed his Initial Assessments and sent them to the Exam Insider Tutors. Low and behold, his English Assessment paper was a true eye opener. I am already aware of his weaknesses but to see them written down so clearly was a lightbulb moment for both Tim and I. Aaron's detailed feedback gave me a clear plan of action. He gave me hope that we can work together to bring him to that level he needs to get into his top and (very) competitive choice senior school. I must note that I would also be happy with his second choice, but I will give him an inspirational school to work towards.

Tim has to take some ownership of his work at this stage. He now knows that he will have to put in the work to improve his English. He will find some time each week to work on his own, armed with his booklets and tutor videos. The beauty is that i don't have to sit with him. It is designed for the child to work independently. No nagging mum sitting next to him, stressing him out.

On my part, I have decided to sit with Tim every night in bed and read together, discussing the story as we go along, paying particular attention to punctuation, vocabulary used and making sure he is understanding the nuances in the text. This could be a good mother-son bonding time whilst also being proactive. I'm hoping he will learn to love reading. I know that reading for pleasure, along with Aaron's gentle nudge in the right direction, will ensure Tim's 11+ success. Fingers crossed.

We are all aware of the impact of the ongoing pandemic on our mental health. As we learn to live alongside “The Virus That Shall Not Be Named” (like Voldemort, just saying the name out loud might alert the dreaded virus to our location), we are also acutely aware of the fact that the inescapable 11+ exams, once a distant dream are, in fact, just around the corner. 

There will be no Harry Potter coming to magically help our children blitz those exams, nor for that matter, will he help us defeat “The Virus That Shall Not Be Named”. As the exams dates quickly approach, the anxiety levels are no doubt at an all time high. 

Speaking to my fellow year 5 parents, it is clear that this pandemic has seen a worrying trend of children seemingly  slipping in their academics, particularly in English and Maths. Homeschooling may have benefitted the few children who perhaps, shy away from a group environment or maybe are unhappy at school. It would’ve also benefitted those children whose schools provided top notch live video classes and who are happy to work independently or, for the really lucky ones, with the help of their parent/s.

However, it is worth bearing in mind that the majority of the children struggled intensely with homeschooling. Not everyone was lucky enough to have had access to live video lessons, some had none at all. As parents juggled working from home with answering the barrage of questions from their child, having to help them with that maths problem, the microphone or even the printer, the children were slowly turning into shadows of their former selves.

Lack of motivation coupled with extended use of digitals has had a detrimental effect on our children. It is easy to see how we could have allowed this to happen. If we, as adults, found it difficult to cope during lockdown, how could we expect our children to? It was easy as we worked from home to allow the children to entertain themselves however they liked. Many of us are guilty of that. As a result, Year 5 has been a trying one for many.

The repercussions, not only on the mental health of our children, but also on their academic standards, have been great. Many parents are complaining about their child struggling to get back into the swing of Year 5 and slipping with their schoolwork. The once academically confident child is now struggling to keep up in Maths. 

By the end of this academic year, it was clear that the children hadn’t covered the same Year 5 curriculum, that my eldest had covered 3 years ago. There were topics that should’ve been covered which they simply did not have time to work on due to the amount of catching up they have had to do.

Parents are now desperately trying to utilise the summer holidays to fill in the gaps left by their school, whether it be resources such as Exam Insider, Bonds books, private tutors or other online Pretest Apps. It is tremendously overwhelming for the parents but even more so for our youngsters.

Our ten year olds are feeling the pressure and know that they are not as prepared as they should be. At that young age, they know where they sit on the academic scale, compared to their peers. They hear their parents discussing the importance of doing well in  the 11+ exams or else they won’t get into their school of choice. They know that they are being compared to their older sibling/s who did so well in their exams that they received offers to all their top choice schools. Above all, they know that the Pandemic has set them back so far that some have given up even trying.

I have come to the realisation that pre exam panic will help no one. Not only is it not productive but it will cause the child to go into panic mode and consequently, have a total mental block. Little and often is what I intend to do over the summer. I have agreed with my child to do 20 mins 4 times a day which covers each subject (English, Maths, VR and NVR). He spreads them out throughout  the day in his own time. He says that 20 minutes is a good amount of time where he can focus 100%. After that, he starts losing focus. This structure means that the time he is working is productive and also fits into his own schedule. He takes ownership of his work whilst at the same time, avoiding an endless battle with Mum. 

Every child will have his/her own methods of studying and it is worth taking the time to help your child figure out what works for them. There is no “One Size Fits All” recipe for success but having that dialogue is certainly a vital starting point. Your child will pick up on your anxiety and in turn, will panic. It is only then that the implementation of  good study structure that works for your child can be put in place, paving the way for a smooth and  healthy  11+exam prep. Wouldn’t we all like to have Hogwart’s “Sorting Hat” to tell us which type of learner our child is? 

Hope you have a balanced and anxiety free summer!

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