CHAT: Playing to Win

I never describe myself as a particularly competitive person….unless I’m playing Scrabble (I have been known to tip the board on occasion when goaded…).  Yeah I like winning, I think games should have a winner and a loser, and of course I don’t want to have my ass whipped.  But on the whole, my default position is that I’m out there to have fun / keep fit /etc.  I don’t feel the need to time my runs to achieve a PB (personal best), I don’t go into a game of Monopoly determined to buy up the board….

Maybe this lack of fire in my belly is a defence mechanism of sorts to take the pressure off, or for when I don’t triumph.  This is also probably why I spent years as a kid playing soccer on a mid level team, never particularly rating my own ability or pushing myself to improve.  Or why today I feel a bit of a jack of all trades, master of none.  As I get older I’ve come to increasingly appreciate the value of a competitive streak.

This concept of healthy competition is something that Chris and I sometimes talk about and debate, particularly in relation to our own kids.  So this week I thought I’d give you his take on it:

Would you describe yourself as a competitive person? Yes, I like the thrill of a competition whether I win or whether I lose.

So presumably when you play a game, sports, etc. you are playing to win, not just for the fun of it? It depends what game, because when I’m playing certain sports I’m competing against myself and my own PB time to try and improve.  But if it’s a board game I want win hands down.  Ultimately I’d rather have fun and not win, but I’ll always be competitive.

Do you consciously try to instil a competitive vein in our kids? Yes.  I teach the kids to give their all to whatever they are doing.  I want them to have fun, to enjoying winning but to learn from losing.  I want them to be good sportspeople.  

You mentioned teaching the kids about sportsmanship?  How do you reconcile this against teaching the kids to play to win? I don’t think they need to be mutually exclusive.  Look at all the great sportsmen out there are who have shown good grace when they’ve lost.  Like Roger Federer, Nico Rosberg, Freddie Flintoff.

I teach C and M to respect the rules of the game that they are playing.  That you push to the limits but you never cheat.  That you make sure that you recognise the abilities and strengths of your opponent(s).  That you practice hard and if you go out and are beaten, you know that you’ve given it everything and that on the day someone was just better than you.  I also tell them to take a lesson from each defeat and to always congratulate your opponent and shake their hand afterwards.     

Most of us have seen or experienced the crazed screams of uber competitive parents from the sidelines of sports matches…what’s your thought on this behaviour?  I think it’s unnecessary and is a sad indictment of many parents that need to live their lives again through their children and that hope that their child becomes a professional sportsperson. The reality and the statistics suggest that most people’s children will not become a professional sportsperson but one should not lose sight of the fact that sport does not have to be played at a professional level to be enjoyed and for those playing to be successful.

And just to treat the wider world to what I’ve observed of late, what you have you C and M discussed as their victory celebration of choice?  A fist pump and a shout of “Yessss” …. and maybe some dancing.

I’m interested to know how others roll on this topic….do you purposefully instil a competitive vibe in your kids and do you think it’s beneficial?

CHAT is a weekly interview series and throwback to my journalism days, where I loved the art of writing questions that evoke interesting and insightful stories.  CHAT will run each Monday on the blog and topics will vary.  Advance warning will be given of  upcoming themes so please drop me a line at if you want to contribute.

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CHAT: Reception Percpetions

C started Reception (kindergarten) this September and ahead of this ‘momentous event’, tons of what ifs were swimming around in my head.  True to the norm, most of this overthinking came to nil once she actually set foot in the classroom.

So today, to launch my new weekly interview series CHAT, I’m exploring some Reception perceptions- some my own, and some of my fantastic friends with children who just began school this year also.

First up: Lucy

I live in Westward Ho!, right on the North Devon Coast with my husband Ed and our two wonderful children – Isabel 4 and Raffy 2.  Ed and I are both teachers (I have a 0.5 contract) and our spare time is usually spent on or around the beach, rock pooling, digging sand castles or generally just running wild with the children.  Isabel is attending a state primary.

How did you feel ahead of Isabel starting Reception? As with all parents, the happiness of our children is THE most important thing in our lives. So the massive step of starting school was filling us with mixed emotions of anxiety, sadness, happiness and pure dread! We were in the fortunate position that our local primary school has a good name and Isabel had been attending pre-school there part-time and absolutely loved it.  The pre-school ran ‘Rising 5s’ induction sessions with the reception teachers during the summer term, which Isabel enjoyed and helped put our minds at ease for September.

But then towards the end of August the thought of the first few days of term made me feel both physically sick and so desperately sad that I would miss out on so much time with Isabel. I knew that she was ready to start school and that she would enjoy it but what if someone upset her? What if the teacher had a bad day and took it out on my little girl? Would she like the school dinners? Who would look after her if she fell and grazed her knee? And what on Earth would Raffy and I do without her??!!

How did Isabel seem to feel about starting Reception?  Did you talk about it much? Isabel is a real thinker and, although she is confident at home and in familiar settings, it takes her a while to come out of her shell. In the run up to her first day we kept ‘school talk’ to a minimum; she had a few questions about the school day and routines for drop-offs and pick-ups, but that was about it. She was generally excited about wearing her uniform, seeing her friends all day everyday and being that little bit more grown up.

If you had apprehensions about the changes Reception would bring, what were they?  Have they played out in reality? Isabel had a few anxious moments at home but when she got to the school gate she was all smiles and full of confidence, encouraging her friends to take the brave step of waving off their parents without a fuss. I think that having a couple of friends to ‘look after’ in the mornings actually increased Isabel’s confidence in those early days.  As time went on it became clear that Isabel was enjoying all the activities at school and learning at a crazy rate! Tiredness was our biggest hurdle and at first it was hard to get a sensible answer about what she had done during the day, but there is so much for them to take in to start with that they are exhausted by home time! 

Although we really miss Isabel when she is at school, I have absolutely loved the time I have with Raffy on his own and I think he has really benefited from having some 1:1 time without big sister dominating! 

Now that school has begun, what questions have you asked that are worth sharing with other parents? Although the teachers are present and approachable at both ends of the day, we didn’t have an official Parents’ Evening until the beginning of November. By which time we had quite a list of questions to ask – teachers are the worst parents!! 

Is she happy at school?

Does she socialise well with the other children?

Does she answer questions?

Is she confident in class?

Which area of the curriculum do you think she enjoys most?

What else can we do to support her at home?

Why have we not heard how she is getting on before now?

What are the routines for snack time? Because Isabel tells us that the snack table is always too full for her to sit down.

What are the rewards/sanctions for behaviour?

… Is her behaviour good…??!!!

Have you encountered any yummy mummy competition at the school gates? I have loved doing the school run in the afternoons and the other mums have been very friendly and supportive so far.

With the benefit of hindsight, what piece of advice would you give other mums and dads preparing to send their first child to school?  Don’t worry. Our children are so much more resilient than we give them credit for. And schools, in general, are so good at welcoming, supporting and including all children and parents. Happy children will learn, so it is in everyone’s best interest to make your child enjoy school. And GOOD LUCK!

Next up: Rhoda

My husband and I live in Lingfield, a small village in Surrey.  B was 4.5 when she started school, and I have another little girl A who is 2 years-old.  B is attending a private primary school.

How did you feel ahead of B starting Reception? Pretty anxious – worried we had chosen the wrong school, worried that she wouldn’t settle in as she can be quite reserved and quiet, and worried I wouldn’t be there enough for her as I was going back to work full time too.

Saying this, I’m a TA in reception, so I have the advantage of seeing how children are introduced to the early years education and that does put my mind at rest about certain things like how quickly the children settle into a routine and make friends. I also know the little tricks and fun games to help the children with their phonics, reading and maths ….so I’ll probably be asking more questions about B’s education in year 1!!

How did B seem to feel about starting Reception?  Did you talk about it much? Whilst I was worrying, she was really excited! We talked a lot about what she would do at school, how she might feel, and how her day would pan out. She wasn’t so keen on going to breakfast and after school club but wasn’t upset about it.  The school settling in sessions before the summer really helped as she really enjoyed them , meaning she was looking forward to starting in September.

If you had apprehensions about the changes Reception would bring, what were they?  Have they played out in reality? I only worried that she wouldn’t be happy but she is and she settled in really well!

Now that school has begun, what questions have you asked that are worth sharing with other parents?  I asked about how much B interacted with other children and if the teacher could see how or if her confidence was growing. In all ways I got positive answers, and am really happy with how much more confident she is becoming – with friends, teachers and volunteering an answer or contribution in class (all something that she shied away from in the past).  

As a parent you do also wonder how quickly or easily your child will pick up reading, writing, numbers etc, but speaking to the class teacher really put me at ease. Understanding that each child is assessed individually and progress is closely monitored, made me feel more relaxed.

Have you encountered any yummy mummy competition at the school gates? Sadly I usually miss drop off and pick up as we use the before and after school clubs but there are plenty of yummy mummies here! However I’ve only had positive interactions with other parents.

With the benefit of hindsight, what piece of advice would you give other mums and dads preparing to send their first child to school?   Choose the school that is suited to you and your child rather than necessarily just by Ofsted reports and key stage results.  Our instinct on visiting this school earlier this year was spot on and our decision to go down the private education route, though a very difficult decision, has so far been the right one for B and us. The way she has settled into the school and her obvious happiness has given us the answer to our question of whether this was the right school – yes!  Also, the class teacher is always approachable – as long as you don’t want to chat at their busiest times if you want a proper chat it’s worth booking time to see them.

My take

You guys know me, but to recap C will be five at the end of January and we live in South East London.  C attends newly opened state primary school with an emphasis on French language learning.

How did I feel ahead of C starting Reception? Excited for her, but a little sad too.  Even though she’s been to pre-school and our childminder for years, I felt like this would be the real start of her loss of beautiful innocence.  I loved school growing up, and just wanted the same for her, just wanted her to be happy.

How did C seem to feel about starting Reception?  Did we talk about it much? I tried to, but she didn’t have much to say about it.  I’d say she was overtly indifferent, but also cautiously accepting.  C is a spitfire but will take her time to warm to new situations.  I think she recognised a big change was on the cards and it was almost as though she was reserving judgement about it until it happened.  

If I had apprehensions about the changes Reception would bring, what were they?  Have they played out in reality? Pretty much what I blogged about earlier in the year- the newness of the school, the lack of established culture and my inability to support C with French since Chris and I don’t speak it (yet).  

The risk of a school which was a blank canvas is proving a huge opportunity.  Everyone- teachers, parents and children have had the chance to push boundaries and we’re not restrained by tradition or ‘the norm.’  There’s a real sense of building a great community for our children and while the ‘results’ of the school are as yet untested, you only need to walk through the door to feel what a nurturing and fun environment it is.  As for the language, I sadly miss the Parent French Club as it’s on a day I’m in London, but we’re studying away on Duolingo and I’m committed to learn.

Now that school has begun, what questions have I asked that are worth sharing with other parents?  What can I do to support what you are teaching in the classroom at home, what are fun ways to teach sight words etc., is there scope to come observe some lessons in the classroom?  At C’s school we have at least one ‘Share in Learning’ session a month where parents get to come into the classroom for a half hour and observe a lesson. It’s been great to see C in action, how the teacher approaches the lessons and to have a look around the classroom.

Have I encountered any yummy mummy competition at the school gates?  No- everyone is really nice and friendly.  Maybe this is because we are all new kids on the block in a new school, maybe it’s just the luck of the draw or maybe I turn a blind eye to this.

With the benefit of hindsight, what piece of advice would I give other mums and dads preparing to send their first child to school? Embrace this change and let your children fly.  They need to feel from us, their parents, that this is an exciting new adventure not something to be feared.  Encourage them to tell you about their school but don’t press too hard.  If you need to ask the teacher a question arrange time to do so.  Volunteer or join the PTA to help shape the school community and don’t shy away from the new if it feels right!

CHAT is a weekly interview series and throwback to my journalism days, where I loved the art of writing questions that evoke interesting and insightful stories.  CHAT will run each Monday on the blog and topics will vary.  Advance warning will be given of  upcoming themes so please drop me a line at if you want to contribute.

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My boy

In early 2012 when the sonographer announced that we were having a boy (and kept repeating, yup that’s definitely a boy), my bewildered face said it all.  For some silly reason I’d convinced myself it was another girl.  I understood girls.  I wouldn’t say I was disappointed, but was a bit…unsure?

Anyway, I got over it pretty quickly and now I can’t believe I ever paused at the idea of having a son.  Because little boys are little legends!

In many ways mini versions of the guys in our lives (generalisation coming), they are headstrong, tactile, in love with cars, obsessed with their own and the female anatomy and always find humour in their bodily functions.  Boys will be boys.  They’re also sensitive, less manipulative than their female counterparts and unguarded with their love.

At 2.5 years, M embodies all of the above and as his personality emerges, he’s got a cracking sense of humour.  You can regularly find him trying to wind up his sister by undressing her dolls, rocking out and singing along to Motley Crue’s ‘Girls Girls Girls’ (thanks Chris) or acting out his favourite Reeves and Mortimer sketch about a dog named Greg Mitchell that resembles his fav stuffed labrador.  This last one includes shouting out Oh no, mama’s gonna kill me (rather than my wife’s gonna kill me, the punchline in the actual sketch) in the middle of busy public places.  Thankfully social services hasn’t turned up yet.  On the other hand he’s got quite the metrosexual vibe going on, never shying away from a dress up opportunity or chance to use my lip gloss (it’s clear).

I know if we’d had another girl she would be completely different to C but I must admit I’m loving the experience of having a son as well as a daughter.  This is a really fun phase that I find grounding amidst other grown up stresses.  I’m not sure what I’ll do with an adolescent boy in the house one day, but hey, that’s not for awhile yet.

Men out there- no doubt your mamas will remember you at this brilliant, innocent and explorative stage even if you don’t remember it.  Go give them a hug.


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It was mid July and I was at C’s pre-school graduation. She sat with her fellow graduates in a semi circle at the front of the room, shoulders hunched and scowling like no tomorrow. It was the graduation cap. Apparently she’d taken an instant undeniable dislike to it. It was only when her teacher told her she could take it off that C radiated a little sunshine.

Maybe it was frustration, or pride for my defiant yet rational little lady who wouldn’t smile for a photo but sensed she was at the edge of a precipice. Maybe it was the 25+ temperatures, my struggle to keep M quiet and on my lap, my poor attempt to hold my i-phone steady to video the proceedings for Chris who couldn’t be there. Or maybe it was bloody Take That, and their cheesy music that supported a poignant montage of C and her friends projected for our tender audience.

Whatever it was, or all of the above, broke me a bit emotionally in that moment. I’m a pretty empathetic person and since the kids I tear up at John Lewis adverts and random stories about cats, but I’m reasonably good at keeping it together in public. But not that day. Tears burned my eyes and then spilled down my face while I tried to brush them away and get on with watching/filming the montage with some degree of composure.

That graduation slapped me in the face with the latent realisation that C and M are not really small babies anymore. Yes, they’ll always be my babies. And yes, this might seem obvious with a little girl headed for Reception and a little boy who now relishes 30 piece puzzles and talking about my big bottom. But sometimes in the hubbub of daily life you don’t take stock of these things and when the penny finally drops and you stop, think and feel, it’s like the wind’s been knocked out of you.

Where did the time go? Did I appreciate it enough? Will I ever have another one and experience that raw dependence and love of a tiny baby, which fades like innocence? I don’t know. Life is busy, and I often feel like I’m treading water….am I doing anything justice?

This has been knocking about at the back of my mind over the summer but I’m not really in the mood for giving in to the ever-present mother guilt or feeling dwarfed by figuring out what I’m doing with my life. I’m determined to have my best crack at this next chapter, to take things one step at a time, to switch off autopilot a bit more…I’ve seen some people around me go through some awful times of late and that makes me more grateful for what I have, and more determined to move and use.

At the end of that provoking graduation ceremony one of C’s teachers told me that she loves C’s spirit and that we’ve done a great job with her. And for that I gave her the biggest hug.

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Girly girl of the scrum

At nearly 4.5 LLC scrums like a trooper, has perfected her growl of indignation and fears not the mud but she’ll do this all in a pretty frock with her party socks on.  Or else.

My little lady loves a dress, and she loves her bling.  Every night she decides which of her 20+ dresses she’s going to wear tomorrow.   Is it wrong to be jealous of my daughter’s wardrobe?  I could only hope for so much choice!  Then she lays out various necklaces, bracelets and rings  for easy access.

By the time Chris or I stumble into her room the following morning she’s often dressed, with jewellery and hair clips by 6:30/7am.  Her hair is probably not brushed, but we’re moving in the right direction.

While I wouldn’t have classed LLC as a tomboy her rough and tumble nature never made me see her as a particularly girly girl either.  She has developed a love of ‘the princess’ but I wouldn’t describe her as princess obsessed.  But she’s definitely got an eye for clothes and accessories and more than ever it’s a struggle to convince her to don trousers or leggings!

What’s more she’s projecting her fashion sense onto me.  ”Mommy”, she’ll say.  ”I love your dress.”  (I often wear dresses to work).  And on days when I’m not in a dress (often those I’m at home, crawling around on the floor with children) she’ll say the likes of, “Where’s you dress mom?  I love you in a pretty dress.  Wear the one blue/green one with the sparkly bits.”

Fortunately she hasn’t got a full on shoe habit yet, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.  My bank balance is crying.

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