News Views

A mixture of news items, events, comments and whimsies, including games, Moon Sand, play, child poverty, A Levels, YoungMinds, island communities and pedagogy in Slovenia .

A Game for Children who have Everything

As the theme is play this month, here is a story about a game.

We get all sorts of things arriving in the Webmag HQ, encouraging us to give them a bit of free advertising. We would like to say thankyou for this sample, but we did wonder if it had been posted on 1 April.

The game consists of a slim box, about ten inches square, nicely designed, containing twenty-four playing pieces made up of six sets of four pictures – monkeys, elephants etc. The game is to turn all the pieces face down, then pick them up two at a time. If they form a like pair, you keep them; if they don’t, you turn them over again and it is someone else’s turn. It used to be known as Pelmanism or the memory game, using an ordinary pack of cards, and it can be hilarious testing your memory, especially as the younger generation usually wins.

The difference with this sample is that you get to keep the pairs which you have won, and in each piece there is a delicate square of chocolate. So, if the players follow the instructions and eat their winnings, they are liable to have only one game. One drawback experienced by our reviewing panel (which we had predicted to ourselves) is that the players may decide they need to test the chocolate without playing the game.

It is advertised as a way to introduce children to luxury chocolate. As such, it is a real success. And it only costs £17.00. What a bargain.

Moon Sand

We only include adverts in this column if they sound interesting and we do not vouch for them unless we test them. We have never played with Moon Sand, so we cannot endorse it, but it sounds good. They say you can shape it, mould it and sculpt it. Moon Sand was the winner of Creative Toy of the Year and is advertised as bringing “all the fun of the beach, but without the mess”. It is “suitable for both indoor and outdoor play”. The mouldable sand “never dries and won’t stick to or stain surfaces”, making cleaning and tidying away easy.

It sounds good stuff, but we were less struck by what the advert was pushing – an Adventure Island kit at £24.99. Whether it is Meccano, Lego or Moon Sand, it seems to us that the free play is the most creative, rather than imposing an adult-designed framework on the child. The manufacturers no doubt argue that the kits sell, and maybe the question is what the children do with the toy once they have got it. No doubt you could make whatever you fancy out of Moon Sand and ignore the moulds.

Child’s Play


This is not a review, but a description of a book by Maja Pitamic, sent by the publishers, New Holland Publishers. As the theme of the month is play, here it is.

“Recent years have seen an increasing recognition of the importance of early childhood education and how crucial it is in childhood development. Play provides children with the opportunity to actively explore, manipulate, and interact with their environment. With this in mind Maja Pitamic has drawn on Montessori ideas to offer young children and parents the chance to learn together in this fantastic new activity book.

“Based on the sound Montessori principles of adapting the child’s learning environment to their developmental level and of the important role of physical activity to create practical skills, Child’s Play is jam-packed with play ideas for parents to enjoy as well as encourage and assist in their child’s key developmental stage.”

It has just been published and the price is £ 9.99 paperback.

Child Poverty

We doubt if any parliamentarian would vote to increase child poverty, but the measures they take sometimes have that indirect effect. The Child Poverty Action Group reckon that, using 40% of median income after housing costs as the measure of severe poverty, the number of children rose from 1 million in 1978 to 4.9 million in 1997, a rise of nearly 500%, while under the Labour Government the rise has been 20% despite their explicit campaign to eliminate child poverty.

We find the figures all very confusing, but it seems to us that if median figures are used, and if the wealthy are becoming extremely wealthy, then more people will fall into poverty without their standards of living dropping. Surely, the only way to overcome relative poverty is to narrow the gap between rich and poor.

CPAG are arguing for a fairer society, and it is said that research shows that countries with the least disparity of income are the happiest. If so, the answer is presumably to clobber the fat cats and tax their income till they earn the same as the rest of us. Then we should all be happier.

Or has something gone wrong with the logic? Are medians the way to measure poverty? Or is there some better way, by measuring the opportunities open to children, for example? Education? Leisure? Health? Longevity? Money surely is not the only measure of poverty.

A Levels

Gateshead Council sends us information every now and then. This year they are celebrating a 99.4% pass rate at A Level in their schools (against a national average of 97.2%). It is down on last year by 0.1%, but that drop does not matter; they have achieved consistent high results, and six schools actually have 100% success.

We do not want to get into the debate as to whether standards are as high now as in the old days. The main purpose of the grades is to help the students and the universities, colleges and employers make comparative judgements within their cohort and decide on the next step in their careers. It does worry us, though, whether the process is now geared to exclude borderliners who might have made the grade but might have been counselled out for fear that they could tarnish the record.

However, we don’t want to be churlish. For those who were successful, it will have meant a lot of hard work, followed by the tension of the exams and the wait for the results, and we congratulate them all. Well done, too, to the teachers, the supportive parents and to Gateshead Council.

YoungMinds want Young Views

YoungMinds, the children’s mental health charity, have emailed to say that this September they are searching for fifteen 5-25 year olds to join their national advisory panel Very Important Kids (VIK).

“Are you passionate about making changes to the future of children’s mental health services? Have you had direct experience as an inpatient? Have you spoken to your doctor or school nurse when you are feeling down? Or do you have a family member with a mental health problem? Then we want to hear from you. Please contact [email protected] for an application.

“VIK meet in London every six weeks and provide expert opinion on the issues affecting children and young people with mental health problems. These discussions inform and influence YoungMinds national campaigns and are used to strengthen children’s mental health services.”

They claim to have had an impact on legislation, as well as YoungMinds policy. It is good to see organisations taking young people’s views seriously.

Island Communities

We find island communities fascinating. A bit like Darwin’s findings about finches and tortoises on the Galapagos, we note that each community, cut off from everyone else by water, evolves and develops its own way of living. This can be a good thing; on Hirta, for example, there was never any recorded offending in its whole history, despite there being no policeman or legal apparatus.

In the case of Jersey, Deputy Chief Officer Lenny Harper, who led the inquiry into alleged child abuse at the Haut de la Garenne children’s home until his retirement, criticised the old boy network of officials for deliberately obstructing the police investigation. In a quiet island community reliant on the holiday trade, it is not nice to talk about such things, and who knows who might be implicated?

The situation was even worse in Pitcairn, where it seemed that a sizeable percentage of the tiny male population were abusing the girls and young women, to the point that this conduct was virtually the norm for the island. If it becomes the norm, can it be deemed normal for that community, or is child abuse always abuse, wherever it takes place? If it is, how do we make sure that closed communities such as islands avoid such practices?

Social Pedagogy in Slovenia

We have just received the latest journal from Slovenia – Social na Pedagogika -which contains articles on

– the relationship between therapy, pedagogy and social work,

– the use of fine arts therapy in a project for young adults,

– dealing with children’s sexuality in pre-school education, and

– social pedagogy in a youth information and counselling centre.

The journal is in Slovenian, with summaries of some articles in English. If any reader wants more information, email us and we shall try to find out more.

From the Case Files

She presented inappropriate behaviour such as the us of verbal language.

And what about the them of non-verbal language?

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