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  • ADHD awareness - pushing for change

    ADHD ('Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder') is a fairly common condition that affects about 1 in every 20 children, influencing their ability to study, their social lives, self esteem and general happiness in potentially very harmful ways. Put another way, that's around 750,000 young people in the UK under 20 - right now - whose lives are being affected by ADHD.

    The good news is that ADHD treatment is safe and highly effective once the condition is diagnosed. The bad news is that awareness & understanding are still pathetically low amongst the people you'd expect to be most 'on the ball', i.e. teachers and family doctors. Thus it falls to parents to be extra vigilant on behalf of their children, to spot the signs and to fight for the help they need.

    As you may gather from the above, ADHD is something Milestone has encountered frequently. It's something we know a fair bit about and feel strongly about - because in our view children and their families are being sadly let down in this area by a teaching profession and a medical establishment which has simply not woken up to the latest research or put the right policies in place. We are involved ourselves in campaigning for reform, and we are very willing to share our perspectives and experience with any parent who is concerned about ADHD in regard to their own child / children. Whether or not you are a Milestone parent, if you want to talk about this issue we may be able to help - so do give us a call. Meantime, hit the links below to see more:

    1) A King's College London video which explains what ADHD is in simple terms:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4r3XWj269_g

    2) A recent BBC piece on how ADHD affects families:

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/amp/uk-wales-46750182

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  • Do Teens Read Seriously Anymore? (or 'Books smell like old people'!)

    We are often asked by Milestone parents: 'How can I make him / her read more?'. It's a tough question to which, in all honesty, we have few answers. Actually, the whole world is asking the same thing. Everyone knows that a strong reading habit expands a child's mind and mental capabilities like nothing else - but we also know that smartphones, iPads and social media are having a hugely damaging impact on patience, attention span and willpower - the things needed to get any reader started down the path of righteousness.

    As to our own advice, it goes like this:

    1) YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT! READING MATTERS!

    2) Start young - e.g. read bedtime stories to your children when they are small (try audio books if it helps)

    3) Limit screen-time and tie access to screens to a bit of daily reading effort. Make a contract.

    4) Find out what kinds of stories your child likes best (Science Fiction, Magic, History, etc.) & go with these

    5) Ask them to tell you about what they are reading - summarise it back to you - be an interested parent

    We found the article below (from the New Yorker magazine) and thought we'd share it here. The perspective is American but the observations are universal.

    NEW YORKER ARTICLE...

    Among teen-agers in recent years, reading anything serious has become a chore, like doing the laundry or prepping a meal for a kid brother. A common sight in malls, in pizza parlors, in Starbucks, and wherever else American teens hang out: three or four kids, hooded, gathered around a table, leaning over like monks or druids, their eyes fastened to the smartphones held in front of them. The phones, converging at the center of the table, come close to touching. The teens are making a communion of a sort. Looking at them, you can envy their happiness. You can also find yourself wishing them immersed in a different kind of happiness—in a superb book or a series of books, in the reading obsession itself! You should probably keep on wishing.

    It’s very likely that teen-agers, attached to screens of one sort or another, read more words than they ever have in the past. But they often read scraps, excerpts, articles, parts of articles, messages, pieces of information from everywhere and from nowhere. It’s likely that they are reading fewer books. Yes, millions of kids have read Harry Potter, “The Lord of the Rings,” “The Hunger Games,” and other fantasy and dystopian fictions; also vampire romance, graphic novels (some very good), young-adult novels (ditto), and convulsively exciting street lit. Yet what happens as they move toward adolescence? When they become twelve or thirteen, kids often stop reading seriously. The boys veer off into sports or computer games, the girls into friendship in all its wrenching mysteries and satisfactions of favor and exclusion. Much of their social life, for boys as well as girls, is now conducted on smartphones, where teen-agers don’t have to confront one another. The terror of eye contact! Sherry Turkle, in her recent book “Reclaiming Conversation,” has written about the loss of self that this avoidance creates and also of the peculiar boredom paradoxically produced by the act of constantly fleeing boredom.

    If kids are avoiding eye contact, they are avoiding books even more. Work by the Pew Research Center and other outfits have confirmed the testimony of teachers and parents and the evidence of one’s eyes. Few late teenagers are reading many books. A recent summary of studies cited by Common Sense Media indicates that American teen-agers are less likely to read “for fun” at seventeen than at thirteen. The category of reading “for fun” is itself a little depressing, since it divides reading into duty (for school) and gratification (sitting on a beach towel), as if the two were necessarily opposed. My own observation, after spending a lot of time talking to teen-agers in recent years: reading anything serious has become a chore, like doing the laundry or prepping a meal for a kid brother. Or, if it’s not a chore, it’s just an activity, like swimming or shopping, an activity like any other. It’s not something that runs through the rest of their lives. In sum, reading has lost its privileged status; few kids are ashamed that they’re not doing it much. The notion that you should always have a book going—that notion, which all real readers share, doesn’t flourish in many kids. Often, they look at you blankly when you ask them what they are reading on their own.

    Of course, these kids are very busy. School, homework, sports, jobs, clothes, parents, brothers, sisters, half brothers, half sisters, friendships, love affairs, hanging out, music, and, most of all, screens (TV, Internet, games, texting, Instagramming)... compared with all of that, reading a book is a weak, petulant claimant on their time. Reading frustrates their smartphone sense of being everywhere at once. Suddenly, they are stuck on that page, anchored, moored, and many are glum about it. Being unconnected makes them anxious and even angry. “Books smell like old people,” I heard a student say in New Haven.

    Yes, I know: this is not a new story. We have known it since the iPhone was introduced, in 2007. Yet teen-age time on screens, as Turkle has documented, has recently increased to the point where it takes over many young lives altogether. Digital culture has enveloped us more quickly and more thoroughly than most of us had imagined. But what can be done about it? Many adults, overwhelmed by a changed reality, shrug off the problem. You don’t want to become a crank. After all, reading technologies have changed in the past; television altered consciousness and social patterns sixty years ago, and kids survived and became adults. Literature will survive, too, somehow. Or so we would like to think. (I’m not so sure: the personal gratification provided by constant feedback doesn’t wither as one gets older.) Some of this indifference may be caused by rueful self-acknowledgment on the part of adults. Many of us are looking at screens all the time, too. Even the book lovers, carrying some tome on an airplane, or listening to an audiobook in the car, turn on their phones as soon as they can.

    Was it better once? I know perfectly well that there was never a Golden Age of Teen Reading. No more than a minority read, on their own, J. D. Salinger or Joseph Heller or Charlotte Brontë fifty years ago; or Kurt Vonnegut or Ray Bradbury or Allen Ginsberg forty years ago; or science and history. Yet now that minority has grown even smaller—and defensive, too. The celebrated nerds among kids are mostly techies.

    Making the case that serious reading is one of life’s great boons—that screen-bound kids are in danger of missing something tremendous—has become awkward, square-headed, emotionally difficult. The plea for beauty and moral complexity may sound merely plaintive. (Few of us are as fierce as the gentle Keats.) Novelists, poets, essayists, and university humanists, emerging from their proud corners, find it hard to talk of character, judgment, perceptiveness, wit, empathy, and other such virtues encouraged by serious reading. They are not salesmen, and they don’t want to sound like William Bennett: such things, they believe, should be self-evident. Earlier ages (the Greeks, the Victorians, etc.) were convinced of the improving value of literature, but in the twentieth century the sophisticated position (Wilde, Nabokov, Updike, Vidal) was always that literature improves nothing, does nothing; it creates only delight. Among famous critics and scholars, Harold Bloom, in book after book, has argued for reading as the way to a developed self, but my guess is that he speaks to those who don’t need convincing. If the rest of us give up on book reading without a fight, we will regret it, even be ashamed as the culture hollows out. I will put it tendentiously. Could a country that had widely read “Huckleberry Finn” have taken Donald J. Trump seriously for a second? Twain’s readers will remember “the king” and “the duke.” They know what a bullying con artist sounds like.

    Lifetime readers know that reading literature can be transformative, but they can’t prove it. If they tried, they would have to buck the metric prejudice, the American notion that assertions unsupported with statistics are virtually meaningless. What they know about literature and its effects is literally and spiritually immeasurable. They would have to buck common marketplace wisdom, too: in an economy demanding “skill sets”—defined narrowly as technical and business skills—that deep-reading stuff won’t get you anywhere.

    The Times reported on Monday that at least fifteen state governments were offering some type of bonus or premium for high-demand stem degrees. “All the people in the world who want to study French literature can do so,” Matt Bevin, the governor of Kentucky, said. “They’re just not going to be subsidised by the taxpayers like engineers will be, for example.” (Governor Bevin, as it turns out, graduated from Washington and Lee with a bachelor’s degree in Japanese and East Asian studies. So much for the crippling effects of the humanities.) But this stem panic may be nonsense. Business leaders have repeatedly said they want to hire people who can think and judge, follow complicated instructions, understand fellow-workers, stand up and talk in a meeting.

    I know that reading literature, history, science, and the rest of the liberal-arts canon helps produce three-dimensional human beings. But how is a taste for such reading created in the first place? Infants held in their parents’ arms, told stories, and read to will not remember the images or the words, but they will likely remember the warmth and comfort associated with books and conversation, especially when the experience is repeated hundreds of times. The luckiest of the children fall out of parents’ arms into preschool. In the good ones, books are read aloud, valued, expounded, held up for kids to enjoy. The rest of American children arrive at school in kindergarten and are then, for thirteen years, either nurtured or betrayed by teachers.

    Teachers are the most maligned and ignored professionals in American life. In the humanities, the good ones are as central to our emotional and moral life as priests, ministers, rabbis, and imams. The good ones are not sheepish or silent in defense of literature and history and the rest. They can’t be; the children’s lives are right before them. In high-school English, if the teachers are shrewd and willing to take a few risks, they will try to reach the students where they live emotionally. They will engage, for instance, with “naïve” existential questions (what do I live for?) and also adolescent fascination with “dark” moods and the fear of being engulfed by adult society. Shakespeare, Mary Shelley, Poe, Hawthorne, Twain, Stevenson, Orwell, Vonnegut, and many others wrote about such things. And if teachers can make books important to kids—and forge the necessary link to pleasure and need—those kids may turn off the screens. At least for a few vital hours.

    By David Denby - staff writer and film critic at The New Yorker

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  • Congratulations to all our 11+ students on a record year!

    HUGE congratulations to all our 2018 11+ students on a year of very high scores and numerous passes. Our highest scorers this year came in with results such as 152, 148 and 137 points, in numerous cases massively exceeding the 121 points needed to secure a pass. And to those who came close but didn't make it, well done to you also - you all made a splendid effort and will all enter your next schools well equipped to succeed!

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  • How do kids feel about taking the 11+ ? Excellent BBC report...

    BBC News has done a great video-report, showing how kids themselves feel about taking the 11+ exam, and the sense of pressure they can experience if too much of a 'big deal' is made of it at home. It's well worth watching as it may help parents figure out how to navigate between being too pushy on the one hand and too relaxed on the other:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/education-44227979/grammar-school-tests-how-do-children-cope

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  • What makes one person better at Maths than another?

    Why do some children seem to 'get' Maths more readily than others? It's a question every parent and every tutor must have asked themselves a million times, so we were very interested to come across the article tagged below on a website from the USA. In essence, the article suggests that it isn't so much to do with innate ability as with self-belief, or the lack of it! Once a child achieves a personal breakthrough in Maths their enthusiasm and commitment to the subject increases and success becomes self-reinforcing. Of course the opposite also applies - and the authors contend that the whole idea of innate Mathematical ability is pernicious, leading a child who falls behind their peer group to believe that they just weren't born with Maths 'genes' and should just stop trying. One thing we see every day at Milestone is the damage that's often been done to a child's Maths confidence when, for whatever reason, they have missed out one of the vital stepping-stones in understanding. This can be something as simple as not having learned their times tables off by heart when very young, or failing to fully understand the concept of fractions and ratios, or not feeling confident in the basic algebra techniques as they move towards their GCSEs. Spotting and correcting these gaps in a child's basic Maths skillset is one of the most important things any tutor can do, and the best days we have at Milestone are when one of our students says excitedly to their parent: 'Look - I couldn't do this before but now I can!' The truth is that in a school class of 30 or more children it's all too easy to fall behind, stop believing in yourself and stop progressing. That's a situation we don't want any of our kids to be in!

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