Thursday, 21 October 2010 - science for boys, art for girls?

The first time I saw the BrightMinds catalogue I was impressed, and pointed anyone looking to buy a present for HackneyChild towards it - the toys were fun, educational and good quality. The company is founded by an ex-teacher and makes a point of the educational value of what it offers.

Flicking through the latest catalogue in search of presents for winter-born nephews I didn't at first notice what was going on in the Science & Discovery Section. But after 20 pages of chemistry sets, weather stations, telescopes and electronics comes a two-page section called In the Pink - beauty salons, perfume making kits, a kaleidoscope, pink Meccano. Hang on, I thought, this is special Girl Science? Who was all the rest of that section aimed at?

Looking back, sure enough in the 20 pages preceeding, and the 12 pages following, the "pink" section, there are 22 pictures of boys interacting with the products (not including the packaging) and two pictures of "Dads". There is one picture of a girl, and one of a mum (bizarrely under the headline "Made by Dad and Me"), and one of a child whose gender is not clear. (There is also a mum and a girl on a video fridge magnet that a boy is looking at).

So where are all the girls? Oh, here they are, bless them, in the Creativity section. Nineteen of them, and not a boy in sight.

This would be bad in a mainstream high street toy catalogue. In a catalogue that touts its educational nous it is appalling and unacceptable. I am affronted on two fronts - as a woman I am incensed that girls' science toys are ghettoised in a two page pink section, and as a mother of sons and aunt of four nephews, I am disappointed that boys are steered away from creativity and art. I had a chemistry set, my sister had an electronics kit. If we were young today would we be making perfume and jewellery boxes instead?

I have nothing against these products, they sound fun, and I'm sure girls, and maybe some boys would enjoy them. I have nothing against products that are mainly targeted at boys or mainly targeted at girls. And I can see that some specific products in the creativity section are boy-friendly. But to have 22 boys and two (at a push) girls in the science section, and 19 girls and NO boys in the creativity section is really saying something disturbing about just who should be taking Chemistry and who should be taking Art.

Monday, 18 October 2010

They say it's your birthday

Time, where have you gone - five minutes ago we were at the zoo for HackneyChild's second birthday and suddenly we were celebrating his third with friends and family. Wetherell Children's Centre was the excellent venue - the centre allows under-fives to use one of its rooms for a party in return for an unspecified donation, and the staff are very welcoming. In return they hope to get more children registered with the centre which I was a bit rubbish at facilitating on the day due to the unforeseen stress of hosting, so I am now running around after guests trying to get them to fill in forms.

HackneyChild seemed to have a lovely time and when our games organising energy ran out the small guests were able to play with the many toys in the room. As most of his friends are from our NCT group, they all have their birthdays at the same time, so next week we will be at third birthday parties all weekend. I'm quite looking forward to parties where I don't have to provide food or games though.

Police crash

The sound of sirens is so usual round here that we don't give them a second thought but when the usual nee naw nee naw was followed by an almighty CRASH on Saturday, I nosily ran outside with HackneyBaby, Hackney_bloke, Essex Brother-In_law and Number One Nephew to see what was occuring.

It was this

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Secret garden

Today we went to Wetherell Children's Centre's Green Fingers Garden Project for the first time. The centre, which backs on to Victoria Park, has a great spiral garden packed with things to inspire and  interest children, including a story den made out of willow, herbs, strawberries, a scarecrow and a compost heap.

The staff were very friendly and welcoming, and HackneyBoy absolutely loved the session, grabbing a wheelbarrow straightaway and getting stuck in with some weeding. I was really impressed with how the project workers treated the children with respect and engaged all their senses pointing out colours, smells, spiders and snails, and so on.

When we got there a number of child-friendly tools were laid out. After the weeding, the children made a picture with leaves and flowers, and then had "snack" and a story (Give Me My Yam) in the den. I could see from HackneyChild's face and the way he responded to the project workers that he was having a great time.

I hardly like to big up this session as when we went there were only two children, which was great for HackneyBoy who can be quite antisocial (luckily he took a real shine to the other boy who he has seen around before, and kept asking where he was going afterwards). But obviously it would be better to reach out to more children. The project workers said the sessions used to be crowded but now they take place in the early afternoon when most children are napping - also, the weather was threatening rain all day although in the end it just lightly showered.

All in all the Green Fingers project is a great example of the best that a children's centre can offer. And I gather the garden either already offers or will be offering sessions to local nurseries and schools so it is definitely reacing more than the two there today!