What is Your Dream for 2016? Children’s National Writing Competition at Kip McGrath Education Centres

Dream a Big Dream National Children’s Writing Competition

The 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games showed how thousands of people could be inspired to pursue their dreams to achieve great things and break world records.

The Kip McGrath national writing competition is an amazing opportunity to inspire your child to celebrate and write about their “big dream”, whatever that may be.

Anyone aged 9  – 14 years can enter the competition and prizes will be awarded to 12 regional winners and two overall national winners.  For full terms and conditions and to enter the competition visit www.dreamabigdream.info

Inspirational Athletes Involved in Dream a Dream Competition


Olympic Champions of the Future – How London Olympics 2012 is Inspiring Children

London Olympics 2012 – Day Five

I am thoroughly enjoying watching the Olympics and today delighted in the two Gold medals won by the Great Britain team in womens’ rowing by Heather Stanning and Helen Glover and also of course Bradley Wiggin’s success in the mens’ cycling time trial.  Well done team GB!

Children and the Olympics

There has been so much excitement and chat amongst my students about the Olympic Games and it is great to see children being involved and so inspired.  These Olympic Games have always championed the “athletes of the future” and this was demonstrated at the opening ceremony when seven bright stars of the future were chosen to light the Olympic Torch at the London 2012 Opening Ceremony.  After all the hype on social media networking sites, how inspirational was it to choose unknown youngsters for this important role rather than a well known star?  I thought this was fantastic! I already posted my thoughts on the opening ceremony here.

What makes a Future Olympic Champion?

I have been on granny duty this week to George and Katie (both primary age students) and wondered how on earth I was going to keep them entertained.  We have had a few visits to the park and cinema but I have also had to work.  I needn’t have worried, my grandson George is obsessed with the Olympics and is following all sports avidly waving his Great Britain flag.  He is trying to decide before he returns to school what sport he will specialise in and become a future Olympic Champion!

Katie, who is a little younger, is decidedly not interested in the Olympics at all and is growing up very quickly.  Feeling very guilty today at the amount of work I had to do, I asked them “would you like Granny to take you to the park?”  George replied “no Granny, I want to see the cycling” and Katie replied “no granny, I want to find out what happens in my book!”

My heart is full!  I have a future Olympian and a future J K Rowling in the making!  Whether they achieve that or not I will make sure that they have all the encouragement and praise they deserve on their future achievements.

An Olympic Education by Danny Boyle at London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony

The Games Have Begun!

At last the London Olympic games have started and we can begin to enjoy the events.  There has been so much build up and excitement to the games and the whole of the UK has been involved it seems.  I for one, and many of my students, had a wonderful day when the Olympic torch was carried through my town centre!

I was surprised that Danny Boyle had been chosen to direct the opening ceremony.  He is a wonderful director of many great films though not an obvious or safe choice!  However, the ceremony was spectacular, very British with a twist and thoroughly entertaining.

Highlighting the history of Great Britain using fantastic props, and a very well selected catalogue of British music was inspired.  The volunteers did an amazing job and must have rehearsed for hours – how did they keep that a secret?  The industrial revolution segment was amazing.

Very funny and totally surprising moments included Mr Bean playing with the Royal Philarmonic Orchestra in a rendition of “Chariots of Fire” and James Bond escorting the Queen to the games, parachute and all!

It was marvellous to see the National Health Service and Great Ormond Street Hospital getting some recognition and I had no idea when watching that the dancers/actors were actually mostly NHS employees who had been sworn to secrecy.


I was then absolutely delighted to see the tribute to British literature, especially childrens’ books being highlighted.  Watching visual images of Mary Poppins and Harry Potter and listening to J K Rowling reading a passage from J M Barrie’s Peter Pan was wonderful.  Children’s literacy and education is an area that I am passionate about and I applaud Danny Boyle for including this in the show.  I am very proud to be British but can I just mention that J M Barrie and J K Rowling are also Scottish?

An Interview with Danny Boyle

The day after the ceremony I obviously read a lot of articles about the success of the Opening Ceremony but I also stumbled upon this interview with Danny Boyle explaining his vision.  Read full article here.

Speaking before the spectacular began, 55-year-old Danny told how he set the  scene with an impression of England’s green and pleasant land.

He said: “It is something which is deeply embedded in our consciousness. We  represent it in a kind of lovely, quirky way.

“Then it becomes part of a much bigger sequence with the transformation into  the industrial revolution.

“It is begun by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who represents the genius engineering  that is present in our country”.

He then goes on to talk about all of the segments in the show.

My Favourite Quote from Danny Boyle

“We wanted to show the delight and importance of reading and writing. If you can read and write, you are free — or you can fight for your freedom”.

I love this!  Thank you Danny Boyle for directing such a wonderful show and highlighting childrens’ literature and what Great Britain is all about!  You have won many Oscars and I am sure you will win many more accolades for the London Olympics 2012 Opening Ceremony.

Now I have to work out how to watch all my favourite events!

What Did you Think?

Did you watch the London 2012 Opening Ceremony?  What did you think of the show?  Do you think Danny will get a knighthood for this?  Could we be referring to him as Sir Danny soon?  According to this article by a tabloid paper bookies are slashing the odds.  Please feel free to leave a comment.

Teaching Safety to Children – How to Keep Children Safe by Child Safety Advocate, Melinda Tripp

We are very pleased that Melinda Tripp, author of “What Should you Do? Helping Children Protect Themselves in the Twenty-First Century” has agreed to be our guest blogger this week.

Melinda is an American teacher, writer, mentor and child safety advocate.  She has taught children, aged from 2 to 13 since 1979 and taught parents, teachers, and students through Abduction Prevention Education and Safety assemblies since 1994.  Over 100,000 children have been touched by her message of safety and empowerment.

Her book has been very well received in America and has 5 stars and great reviews on Amazon.Com.  The book is now available to purchase at Amazon.co.uk.

Teaching Safety

We begin teaching children, quite early, how to stay safe.  We tell children, “The fire is hot, keep back, you could get burned.”  We teach them to use a railing when walking down steps, so they don’t fall.  Later it is necessary to begin teaching a more general safety plan, with tailored life lessons in safety.  This will give them an umbrella plan that they will use to help them through the situations that will confront them during their lives.

The lessons taught will be repeated, honed, added to, and practiced for ages 5-13. For parents and teachers situational safety will continue to be a necessary part of teaching as their children and students grow.  They can teach children the skills they need to take on the bad behaviours of others (from young bullying on the playground through the underworld of human trafficking) and situations that are potentially threatening, allowing them to use their plan to act quickly and safely.  If a child is constantly aware of their surroundings, they will be on the lookout for situations that can be avoided.

A child who is in a safe place with their trusted adults is on what I call green light, and can relax and safely “tune out” the world around them.  All people, of any age, who are out and about in the world need to be aware of the world around them, people and the behaviours around them.  This is what we call yellow light, a time to be on alert, and prepared to act.  What then does Red light look like? This is when someone is actively getting to a safe place.  They have acted quickly and used  their observation skills, so they can tell a trusted adult; are able to describe, people, areas, situations and objects readily, so that the trusted adult.

Buy some peace of mind today, we can’t control everything, but we can be in charge of teaching our children to become safer people with, What Should You Do? Helping Children Protect Themselves in the Twenty-First Century , Tate Publishing 2010.  You can be empowering your child with simple, and easy to use strategies tomorrow.

Turn a child’s “fight time into flight time,” making your child just too much trouble to take.

Links for Melinda Tripp






The Book can be purchased from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk and is available to download for Kindles.

Goldilocks and The Three Polar Bears – An Illustrated Essay by Finlay Currid (aged 8)

Finlay Currid is aged 8, in Primary 3 and attends the Kip McGrath Education Centre in Falkirk for help with this Reading and Writing.  His teacher, Janice Rough, is so proud of the hard work and excellent progress Finlay has been making she wanted to share his latest exercise with the whole world.  We have to admit we are pretty impressed with Finlay’s story about Goldilocks the Mermaid in the Arctic Circle.  Well done Finlay!!

Please click on the first box below to read the story in full screen!

To contact the Kip McGrath Education Centre in Falkirk, you can contact Janice Rough on  01324 682077 or visit the website at www.kipmcgrath.co.uk/Falkirk.

SQA English Essay Example – Patience by Michael Ahari S4

2008  SQA English Credit Question 11

Michael Ahari is in S4 and attends Kip McGrath Balerno, Edinburgh South for extra tuition in English.  It is days until exam time and we are hoping for excellent results from Michael.  This essay question took only one hour to complete and has not been edited.  Based on his work so far we have a future writer in our midst!


Patience. For some it comes naturally. They can fiddle around for hours on end attempting to piece together an intricately designed car model. Or, they can soak up all of the juicy information thrown at them when reading through a massive book in order to find a specific minute piece of knowledge. However, for others, like me, it does not. The model car would be dropped halfway through in anger and the thick book brimming with facts would not manage to squeeze even a drop of information into my head, having discarded it within five minutes of picking it up. I was quick minded, keen and simply could not find the time to wait. What can you expect from an eleven year old boy? But, as I had come to realise, it was something I would need to get a firm grasp of. Patience is the most valuable lesson I have ever been taught.

I stared at my computer monitor. An error message: “The file has not printed” popped up in the bottom right corner of the screen. The red alert on the printer flashed on an off, on and off, as it briefly lit up the room before disappearing again. This was the third attempt to print my project. And unsurprisingly, the third occasion I had been told that it hadn’t printed. The printer was on, there was ink in the printer and there was paper in the tray. What more did it want? I grinded my teeth together, slammed my fist furiously on the desk, and sighed. A long, stressed sigh.

What was I going to do? Did the computer want me to fail here? I was growing more and more impatient – tapping my feet on the floor. I whispered “stupid”. And then I repeated it. Louder and louder each time until I was screeching at the top off my voice “stupid stupid stupid”. And now I was standing up, and I moved around the room – pacing up and down. My hands tugged heavily at clumps of hair to the point where my whole head itched and ached. Then I started flapping my arms around like a bird in distress, and groaning a deep aggressive bear like groan. I fell to the floor and slumped against the wall: defeat. The computer has won. I had given up. Forget the project. It was all just stupid anyway.

“Michael” my father called, a tone I was all to familiar with to know what was coming next, “What’s Wrong?” I immediately exclaimed that nothing was wrong, but I could see by the look on his face he knew this is not the case. I looked up at him to see him staring back. I switched back to look at the floor, but I sensed him still waiting for a reply. Maybe he could help. So I told him what was wrong. This was followed by a string of what, at the time, seemed like irrelevant questions that I had already answered before weren’t going to make the slightest difference. As I lay there on the carpet – my father sitting at the computer desk – I answered “Yes”, “No”, “Yes”, “Yes, I’ve already told you” so dismissively I wasn’t even listening to what he was saying. I just wanted the problem fixed. Instantly. As I now know, things cannot always be done straight away…

Fifteen minutes have passed. I am now starting to go over the various possibilities for why my project will not print. It’s tedious I thought at the time – I had already been over them and decided that they were not the reason. The computer fan made a light whizzing sound and the chair my dad was sitting in creaked as the metal moved together. Again, I thought about why. Why? Why? Going over and over and over. Then smack. It was like a slap in the face: my wake up call. I had realised the reason – finally! I sprung into an upright position and proclaimed cheerfully “Yes, I’ve got it”.

Patience. I now understand that although you may not be born with it, you most certainly develop it through experience – even experiences like the one I had when my project would not print. My anger and frustration got the better of me and my whole thought process became irrational. Although my dad told little to me about patience itself, his actions most certainly allowed me to realise that with any issue there is a resolution, you just need to take the time to find out what that may be. When I was calm I sat down, and thought through thoroughly and eventually the problem was able to be solved. It’s the reason I can tackle problems such as intricately designed car models or read through gigantic manuals to obtain information, among the many other that I have to face in daily life.


Death’s Sick Game – an Essay by Tom Sichel

The azure sky covered the dark, arid landscape. honour, courage, Pride: These were the things that kept him sane through war’s horrors and deaths. Staring deep into a blue eyed man’s eyes, it all seemed too easy. The rifle man sat next to his fellow companion – hidden from sight. Sweat sweltered like scolding water down their red freckled necks. Crows squawked incessantly.

Far away from the rifle man the blue eyed man sat under the large shading tree- the only living thing left after war’s ordeals. The blue eyed man’s gun lay far from reach and unloaded. He was eating a sandwich and starring deeply into the azure sky. He was young; he was naïve- naïve to the fact that the sands of life were running quickly down his hour glass.

Back in the trench, the rifleman took aim with his gun; the blue eyed man was its victim. The two dark barrels leered at its prey’s every movement, eager from the excitement to kill, quivering from the exhilaration and thrill. All the rifleman had to do was slide his strong finger down the trigger; but he was too late. The thundering sound of planes came over head. Angels of death loomed like stars in the sky. No longer could he hide. Death’s batter and ‘bang’ came with little time to respond. Hot like the sun- it became unbearable. Shrapnel fatally impaled his companions’ soft, tender jacket. The rifleman was blessed with only the blow of a stone to his head. Surroundings became blurred, speech became slurred. The rifleman staggered towards a deep abyss made from a detonated bomb. He laid his pounding head against the edges of his safe haven. Vision became a long narrow tunnel …

His heavy lead limbs began to gain normal feeling. His lungs inhaled a frantic breath and eyes quickly gapped in alert to his quiet surroundings. No blue eyed man was in sight. Death had begun to play its sick game. He sat still in the sticky swampy mud of his flooded trench. His hands clumsy from the cold, his feet left with little feeling. The wind penetrated his rough, thin jacket. Rain had made the mud take his shape like a relaxing bed, but the cold was unforgiving and brought stiffness and aches. His gun lowered despondent of no kill.

Slowly turning his head his gaze met with something so startling no war experience could prepare him for. He stared deeply into its dark hollow eyes, the lifeless corpse of his friend was not a sight he could come to terms with. His fist clenched like knives into the palms of his hands. Turning his head away in despair he looked outward to the vast landscape of no man’s land. His hands trembled as the thought of war came flooding through his mind. He daringly began to crawl through no man’s land in search for a safety.

Every manoeuvre came with hesitance. His gun courageously scoured the arid landscape. A set of broken spectacles lay stuck in the mud. He gazed at a reflection; a shattered reflection of his crooked nose and unshaven face – it reminded him of how shattered his spirit had become.

It was not long before death’s smell infested the air nearby. Only this time it was that of the enemy’s. A lifeless deformed figure lay still on the floor. Deep Inside of the rifle man a raging fire burned; His eyes became hot coals from the pit of a fire. He stared piercingly into the hollow eyes. His vision then met the glint of a silver shining necklace. The necklace lay clenched in the dead body’s hand. Bending down to pick up the necklace, the rifleman began to read the writing inscribed.

All of a sudden that deep fiery hatred turned into sickness- Sickness of death’s sick games, Sickness of war’s terrors and pains. Bullets shrieked as they are dispersed onto the watery ground. The necklace had read that of his dearest and closest friend

“Fredrick Smith” Was what it read.

An unbearable sadness tore deep into his soul. Trickles of water dripped of the end of his chin. In remorse he quickly left the hellish place.

Crawling frantically over the banking the sound of a humming man came to his attention. It was that of the blue eyed man. Sitting next to an old barn in a field- the blue eyed man looked naïve just as before. He was humming a lullaby whilst polishing his long shiny gun. The sun pierced the azure sky The Rifle man took aim and reloaded. His hands were trembling, his legs like jelly. All he had to do was slide his strong finger down the trigger; but he could not bring himself to playing deaths sick game. His head slumped and gun fell to the ground. For a moment the shinning sky became a gloom. ‘Bang’ his heart no longer could beat; the enemy’s bullet the victor of deaths sick game.

Written by Tom Sichel, an S4 student who attends Kip McGrath Education Centres Balerno, Edinburgh South and has given us permission to publish this very powerful piece of work.

A Wooden Guitar – An Essay by Michael Ahari

E.Q: Write about a person, place or incident from school which you find unforgettable.

A wooden guitar. It rests on a desk in the opposite corner of the room. Light peeks through gaps in the closed blinds and illuminates the shiny brown surface of the guitar – my eyes drawn to it in a subliminal stare. The walls around me are pink, matching the colour of the chair I sit in now. The soft leather feels like I could be swallowed up in comfort, and relax. But I can’t relax. Not here. In front of the desk and the guitar, in the middle of the room, he sits. A bright blue blob, scanning me from head to toe, like a predator ready to pounce on his prey. And I’m staring back at him, maintaining eye contact. My fingers dig harder and harder into the side of my leg. My nails are teeth, gnawing away at my flesh, eating me up. Then he opens his mouth, as if to gobble me whole, and welcomes me into his office. The lions den. The headmaster’s office.

That room, for seemingly insignificant reasons has remained firmly in my memory. The first of which was colour Pink. Why pink? In such a place where children enter brimming with confidence, cheek and confrontation, and leave a changed person – only a dribble left of their formerly self – should they be met with the comfort and safety of pink walls. And comparing them with the colour of his angered face, they became even more incongruous. Then, he coughed, drawing my eyes back in his direction to finally face my fear. I felt, like with many other fears, like I could not step back. Not attempt. There was nowhere to go. The door was shut. Or was it…A woman walked in.

The squeak of the door and the rush of air as she burst into the room gave me another few seconds of escape – a gasp of air before I would be plunged back in at the deep end. And in those few seconds I noticed, above all, her and wrapped around the door. Her long, slender fingers like a rake complete with the sharp points of her nails as they scratched the paint from it’s surface. Then I counted her fingers. One to five. Of course. How many fingers was I expecting? Four? Six? Perhaps it was to reassure myself that she was human, and her pale complexity coupled with ghostly fingers was all part of the agenda to frighten me. And she disappeared. The door closed with a thud. I could feel the door squealing in pain as it slammed back into place. Silence. He flicked through a bundle of paper, each sheet shaking in his grasp, and his nose twitched uneasily. Ironic that it should be him and not me…

The most unforgettable feature of the room, undoubtedly, was the guitar which caught my glimpse as he held the papers. It just sat there. In the corner. I couldn’t my eyes off it. I must have scanned it nine times, from the top, the tuning pegs, and following the strings journey along the neck, crossing over the sound hole and coming to a halt at the barrier posed by the bridge. And the intricate design of mosaic tiled wood around the sound hole – a pallet of colour covered in a beautiful glazing. Hypnotising. Everything else in the room was insignificant – even the headmaster – as the guitar played it’s melody of enchantment on me. I had completely forgotten my whole reason for being there. Until he spoke: “Hello Michael”. Sound pierced the air and dissipated around the room. It must have reached me last though, as my reaction was somewhat delayed. Then… click. I was back in the room. Sitting in the chair again, surrounded by pink walls, in front of the headmaster. The interview was about to begin.

Today, when I review my ordeal in that room, I realise that in fact, it was much of an ordeal at all. Instead, an experience to savour and enjoy – I was a candidate for head boy after all. Not a daft eleven year old who spent their school days throwing rubbers at people in the class and telling teachers to ‘shut up’. However, it was the minute details that made this place so unforgettable. From the inappropriate pink walls to the inhuman hand around the door to the bewildering guitar in the corner, it was unforgettable. In many ways these details personified my feelings, and even now it amazes me to consider some of the bizarre items that have appealed to me in moments of fear. Now everytime I see a guitar resting on a desk, or a person with slender fingers, or pink walls in a room, I cannot help but think of my headmaster’s office. And who knows, maybe you will too.

This is a personal experience essay written by Michael Ahari who is in S4 and currently attends The Kip McGrath Education Centre in Balerno, Edinburgh South and is busy preparing to sit Standard Grade English.

Notes For My Grandfather – an Essay By Sophie Wright

Digging out an old box overflowing with scraggily yellow pages of books and notes I noticed a fiery red folder cracked and torn with age with the title “Harry Wright’s life in TAB” faintly printed with gold letters. Inside was a familiar E flat music sheet I used for my studies and for my grandfather’s memorial. I scanned the score once again which threw me back to May 21st2011…

Quietly nursing a bottle of bright blue liquid I began to scan the room for any familiar face that I could make conversation with so that I could feel more involved with what was going on. The old wooden tables made the pub feel very cosy and friendly yet I felt more alone than ever. My eyes were constantly being drawn back to the jet black case sitting beside me. The clips were shimmering in the artificial light above screaming at me to open it. I took hold of my necklace which my grandfather gave me and the memories of him started flooding back to me like a crescendo of notes. The memories were so clear it was like it only happened the previous week; visiting him in hospital with my brand new saxophone and watching his eyes light up in admiration as his fingers gently ran down the keys; visiting him at home and playing my old saxophone while he sat and strummed along on his guitar; visiting him after a long holiday and feeling his arms around me tightly gripping me as if he was never going to let me go. Grandparents are always special to each of us – but especially me. My grandfather and I connected greatly because of our love and passion for music. Stu began to climb into an allegro of recognisable music which snapped me back to reality. The memorial. An uncontrollable silent tear slowly crawled down my cheek. I quickly brushed it away hoping that no-one had seen. I wasn’t going to succumb to emotion tonight. Tonight was created for the memory of my grandfather and I was not going to let my emotions get the better of me. My heart started beating faster like an increasing metronome knowing that it was soon my turn to be in the spot light.

I slowly opened my case and I couldn’t help but stare at the glowing instrument gazing up at me. My grandfather’s words echoed in my head…”this is a beauty, the things you could do with this magnificent instrument. Well done Sophie” It was like he was there with me – I could feel his presence in the room which gave me the confidence to set up my saxophone. My clammy hands marked the glowing metal and I could hear the silver ring on my middle finger lightly tapping off the “A” key. I found myself constantly fidgeting with the keys. I took a deep breath and gulped the last of my drink down. Stu looked at me and politely asked if I would like another drink. I shyly nodded my head as I felt a smile grow on my face. He was a very good friend of my grandfather. I felt calm and composed around him – like how I felt around my grandfather. He staggered back and gently placed a shiny new bottle of blue liquid in front of me. I thanked him and took another sip. It was now my turn.

I tightened up the sling around my neck holding the saxophone upright. I clumsily flicked through the music and found a repetitive but popular tune. Stu noticed my hands shaking more violently and began to play the introduction. I took a deep breath and allowed the air to leave my lungs through the mouthpiece and deep into my saxophone. People around me began to cheer and Stu then bellowed out the lyrics as well as plucking the notes from his guitar in time with me. I could feel my fingers shake and my lip quiver. My heart felt like it was about to explode out of my chest. I quickly decided to use ritardando to make the simple tune sound more musically sophisticated, and it worked. Everyone around me was on their feet – I couldn’t believe it. I looked over at Stu as he winked at me smiling while applauding in syncopation with the rest of my ovation. I could feel my face turn from a rose pink shade to a scarlet red in a matter of seconds. I bowed my head so my hair fell around my face and closed my eyes. I finally did it. I had conquered my fear- the worst part was over: the complex work was soon to come.

I took a large gulp of my drink and sat back in my seat and breathed a sigh of relief. This was it, my big moment. The music stopped for a bit while people purchased more drinks and started talking and slowly getting more drunk. The smell of alcohol became sickly which didn’t help the knot in my stomach. I picked up my saxophone holding onto it tightly due to the sweat leaking off my palms. Tightening the strap I could feel the necklace dig into the back of my neck, it reminded me again of my grandfather. I pressed my lips tightly onto the mouthpiece and took in a few deep breaths to compose myself. I placed the old, age-stained score quietly in front of me deliberately not drawing attention to myself. I closed my eyes and took hold of my necklace and whispered under my breath “Granddad, this is for you” The glow of the gold writing shone off the folder as I took a deep breath and began to play quietly increasing my pitch to a comfortable mezzo forte. As the song became more recognisable, I could feel my heartbeat crescendo into a flame of passion. The chorus of the song was blazing towards me and I couldn’t help myself from allowing my saxophone come alive. My lip was quivering uncontrollably which could be heard by all but I kept going, bending the notes making it my own I pictured my grandfather sitting in front of me smiling with his face glowing at me which made me blaze through the music without hesitation. Before I knew it I had reached the end. I finished with a beautiful diminuendo before closing my eyes once more and reaching for the necklace embedded into my neck. The whole room were on their feet. It felt like the heat from my face could melt the ice in everyone’s drink. My heart was beating faster than the tempo of the music and my hands were shaking more noticeably than ever. I breathed a sigh of relief and fell back into the seat. Stu patted me on the shoulder and congratulated me. I couldn’t help but smile…I had done it. I held in a few tears as people all around the room also congratulated me on how well I had performed. I packed away my saxophone and my music, including the old score. Just before sliding it back into the fiery red folder, I quickly glanced at it for a final time and smiled.

Looking back now I realise that I should not be so nervous and scared of what people will think of me. If I knew that back then, I am certain that I would have enjoyed the memorial a lot more. Each time I pull out the score “Baker Street” I am always reminded of that unforgettable night. I can now enjoy playing my saxophone more than before and I can let my grandfather’s memory come alive by my playing. My grandfather will always be in my heart and will always be there to help me to battle through my fears. That saxophone is no longer just a piece of shiny metal; it is a part of my grandfather…and a part of me.

Personal Reflective Writing Piece for SQA Highers by Sophie Wright who attends the Kip McGrath Education Centres in Edinburgh South, Balerno

National Concert Bands Festival – A student’s Experience of Winning Gold

National Concert Bands Festival 2011

This a creative piece of writing by Gregor Moffat who is in Secondary 4 and attended the National Concert Bands Festival Last Year with his school and won Gold.  Gregor attends the Kip McGrath Livingston Education Centre.

NCBF Finals

By Gregor Moffat

With rock’n’roll pounding in our hearts as the last notes were played; the calm before the storm. Then the huge roar of applause washed over us, like a alpha male lion signalling the pride. A wave of relief washed over us as we bowed and calmly walked off the stage. The thoughts in our minds were that we had just done something for the first time and did it tremendously. The National Concert Band Festival’s Final, 2011.

Early Saturday morning, dragging myself out of bed. Reasons being that we were the first to perform in The Royal Academy of Music and Drama for the NCBF Finals. Slugging our way towards our bus,  and grasping the rail as we clambered onto the bus. As I climbed lazily up onto the bus, I heard a symphony of yawns and snores. Some people were up all night either too excited or just getting the final most practice before it was time to retreat to their comfort and cosy beds, ready to face the performance of our lives.

When we arrived , there was a rainbow of uniforms, as this prestigious competition attracts the best from all over the U.K., even such bands closer to home – such as James Young High School – who were competing in the same category as us. It was like The Football World Cup Finals, but this was a competition of only winners and there were no losers at the end of the day. Seeing so many bands got me just a  bit hot under the collar, but kept my cool, holding a poker face.

Now, after passing through the crammed lobby, like the stairwell at Baker Street Station at 8:37 on a Monday morning, we arrived at our rehearsal room. We, percussionist, threw our stick bags and music and rushed off towards the stage to get set up for our performance. There was a ten minute time limit we had to get the percussion gear set up.

We walked out onto the stage, the huge rush of emotions hit me like a freight train, the shaking of my hands and legs, a bit like jelly. Even just standing in the hall there was a large presence I could feel. The adjudicators were sitting in their seats, like kings and queens looking for entertainment from their jesters. Just a quick glance, was like staring down a charging bull. We finally finished setting up. The rest of the band shyly walked out, firstly the brass with big sounds silenced, for now. Then came the tutee fruity woodwind, and finally our conductor, Camille Mason. Suddenly we heard the announcer introduce our band and Miss Mason, so I immediately turned my attention to Miss Mason, waiting for the timing to begin. I started to get tunnel vision, like a red arrow preparing to make the performance of their life. Then we began.

With rock’n’roll pounding in our hearts as the last notes were played, the a calm before the storm. Then the huge roar of applause washed over us, like a alpha male lion signalling the pride. A wave of relief washed over us as we bowed and calmly walked off the stage. The thoughts in our minds were that we had just done something for the first and did it tremendously. We were then herded off to get a band photo. Irritably we had to wait a while to find out the results. The time crawled by tick, tick, ticking away like a metronome. We, percussionists, began drumming on our laps; not on our instruments. Time was stuck in slow motion as some of the band went off to watch other bands, wondering ‘did we do it better’ and ‘wow, they are good’.

Twelve o’clock eventually came around and we all lit up like fireflies in the night. We rushed to the lobby where the awards were to be handed out. We hadn’t been quick enough to get a seat as it was like an ocean of heads bobbing up and down. There was a delay, which kept on getting bigger and  bigger until the time cam and the feeling of relief at the time had came. Suddenly it went quite, like a graveyard at night.

One after another, the awards were handed out, and a roar of cheers followed not far behind. Then it was us. We fell silent and the unbearable weight of anticipation was so strong, then ‘West Calder Junior Band receives a …. gold award’, and we went berserk, unleashing the emotions that had built up inside. I turned to my right and gave my friend a big high five.

At the end of the school year, the schools’ award ceremony was coming up and we were told that our NCBF award was going to be presented to two of the band members but we hadn’t been told who they were. A few weeks before the award ceremony, at our rehearsal Miss Mason announced that Nic Stevenson and myself were to collect the award. We gladly accepted, we were overjoyed by her picking us when there were plenty other people who deserved to receive it, on behalf of the band.

It was the evening of the award ceremony, there was a feeling of excitement and happiness, watching others receive their awards, and then it was the bands award. Nic and myself walked up onto the stage calmly shaking the hand of Karen Geoghegan – former West Calder pupil – and she gave us the award; then walk back to our seats.

Now that I have moved up to the Senior Band, I am hoping that Miss Mason will encourage another Junior Band to go to the Finals and achieve better. This year I am going with the Senior Band to London to perform at The NCBF Finals in The Royal Academy. I have not got over what we achieved that fateful day.

Gregor Moffat

Scottish Children’s Book Awards – Children Choose the Best Scottish Books

The winners of the Scottish Children’s Book awards 2011 were announced yesterday in Edinburgh in a hall packed full of Scottish Children.   I watched the highlights on STV News (click to watch video) and how I wished I could have been there to see so many children take delight in their love of reading!

What is even more wonderful is that all of the books nominated were read and voted for by 23,000 children in Scotland,which is up by 42% on last year. Let’s hope that number will increase again for next year’s vote and inspire many children to develop a true love of reading!

The winners were:

Bookbug Readers (Category 0-7)

Dear Vampa by Ross Collins is a beautifully illustrated book about a family of vampires.  The little boy vampire writes to his Grandpa and is amazed at the strange new family who have moved next door.  They are very different! They even stay out all day in the sunshine.  Perhaps he shouldn’t have passed judgement too quickly because they may not actually be as different as he thinks.  Definitely a book for the older kids in this category.

Young Readers (Category 8-11)

Zac and the Dream Pirates by Ross Mackenzie -Everybody dreams. That’s the problem. Good dreams are sweet. Bad dreams are scary. But what happens when the worst sort of nightmares take over? Zac Wonder is about to find out. On the stroke of midnight, he follows his mysterious grandmother into the worst blizzard for fifty years, and winds up discovering an extraordinary world on the other side of sleep. Is he still dreaming? Has he gone nuts? Or is he really meant to save us all from the devious dream pirates who threaten to hijack our dreams…and turn our lives into a waking nightmare?

Older Reader Catgeory (12 – 16)

Jack worships luck and decides his actions by the flip of a coin. No risk is too great if the coin demands it. Luck brings him Jess, a beautiful singer who will change his life. But Jack’s luck is running out, and soon the stakes are high. As chance and choice unravel, the risks of Jack’s game become terrifyingly clear. An evening of heady recklessness, and suddenly a life hangs in the balance, decided by the toss of a coin. In the end, it is the reader who must choose whether to spin that coin and determine: life or death.

Congratulations to the winners.  To read the nominees and further details, please click on the main Scottish Book Trust Website.

My Opinion

As a teacher, parent and grandparent, I have always tried to encourage book reading from an early age.  It is so important for our children’s education and to develop good literacy skills.  I feel so disheartened when a child comes to Kip McGrath who is struggling at school with English, particularly in basic reading and writing and I discover that they do not read any books at home. There was an article recently which I blogged about that according to the National Literacy Trust  4 million children in the UK don’t own a book and I posted a few book ideas for reluctant readers.

Having said that, I am so encouraged by yesterday’s Scottish Book Awards announcement and love the fact that so many Scottish children read and were discussing characters in the books with each other.  What a great incentive and I hope this is rolled out to many more children in our schools this year.  Wouldn’t it be fabulous if instead of swapping Moshi Monster cards at play break, children could be swapping books!!

Tips for Parents of Reluctant Readers

No matter how clever a child is, parents and teachers must encourage children to read for the fun and love of it.  If your child is reluctant to pick up a book what can parents do?

  • Try focusing on what interests they have and not what you think they should be reading
  • Do they watch particular television shows or films?  Many shows also have a series of books or annuals.
  • Let children read what interests them.
  • Arrange a visit to the local library and let them pick a book that interests them on any subject at all.  Let them make the choice (as long as it is age appropriate)
  • Ask your child to write a very short book report or even to choose a time when your child can tell you about the story giving your undivided attention.
  • Ask questions and be positive! Give lots of praise and attention.
  • Why don’t you choose a child appropriate book to read also and do the same?  Make it a regular fun event.
  • Let your children see that you also love to read
  • Buy book tokens for gifts

Is your child struggling with reading?

If you think that your child is not just a reluctant reader but is falling behind at school and perhaps struggling with reading and English, then perhaps there is an underlying issue that needs to be addressed.  At Kip McGrath Education Centres, our qualified teachers will assess your child’s abilities in a free educational consultation and will advise you of any weaknesses.  This may just give you peace of mind but if there is a problem, we will create an individual learning programme that your child will follow in conjunction with the school curriculum to help them catch up.

To find a local Kip McGrath Tutoring Centre in Scotland, use our postcode finder tool to find your local centre.

National Literacy Trust Survey Reveals Almost 4 million children in UK do not own a book – What can we do?

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Concerns about Childrens’ Literacy in the UK

In September 2011, The National Literacy Trust undertook a survey of school aged children across 111 schools in the UK.  Worryingly, it suggests that 33.2% of children (approximately 3.8 million) in Britain do not own a book.  This has shifted dramatically since 2005 when 1 in 10 children owned a book compared to 1 in 3 in 2011.  The survey reveals that girls and children from wealthier areas were more likely to own a book and that these children were more likely to excel at school.
As highlighted on the BBC website  on 5th December 2011, Trust Director Jonathan Douglas said the steep rise in the number of chilren without their own books was of particular concern. This is what he had to say:

He said: “We know there is a direct correlation between book ownership and childrens’ reading abilities”.

  • “With one in 6 in the UK struggling with literacy it is very worrying that many children could be missing out on opportunities to develop these essential skills.”
  • The trust said that children who owned books were more likely than others to read every day, and that book ownership had a clear link with reading ability.
  • Of the children and young people with books of their own, more than half read above the level expected for their age, with fewer than one in 10 reading below the level.
  • The survey also revealed links between reading ability and receiving books as presents.
  • About a fifth of children said they had never been to a book shop or a library.
  • But the survey also showed that reading any type of material, for example magazines, outside class at least once a month was also associated with greater reading attainment.
  • In light of these findings, The National Literacy Trust have launched  the Gift of Reading this Christmas by asking the public to make a donation which could give a disadvantaged child a book of their own for the first time.You can buy the ‘gift’ for yourself or give the unique present to the booklover in your life. Those giving the Gift of Reading will be able to choose an exclusive Christmas card designed by a children’s author including the wonderful Julia Donaldson & Alex Scheffler who created the Grufallo.
  • To support this wonderful cause and read the original report, please visit the National Literacy Trust website.

Why is this happening?

One of the findings of the National Literacy Trust Survey is that poverty is a factor in children not having access to books.  I don’t think poverty is really the issue here.  Many children from lower income families have access to expensive games consoles, dvds etc.  Books can be cheap.  Going to the library is free and there are numerous charity shops and book fayres where you can pick up childrens’ books for pennies.  I would suggest that lack of the parents’ education have reflected on their children.  If parents were never encouraged to read then why would they consider encouraging this to their children?  This survey shows that children who read at home are more likely to do better at school.  If a parent is not a reader, then they are less likely to gift books and put as much importance on it.  It is up to the parents and family members to encourage reading at home from an early age.

A major concern to the Trust is the steep decline in readers since 2005. This apparently could be in part to blame with the boom in information technology.  Children are texting, on social networking sites, playing computer games, watching dvds and surfing the web.  Of course this is going to have an impact on the next generation.  There is so much more access to entertainment now than the previous generation had.

However, children are missing out out so much by not reading books at home.  This is what one of our students at Kip had to say:

Why I love books by a 9 year old Kip Student.

Heather, aged 9

I enjoy watching films on dvd, but I think reading is much better as I can imagine all the characters so vividly and it boosts my imagination.  Reading means a lot to me as I like to read in bed instead of watching films.  I love to imagine what the characters in a book look like in my mind.  When I am reading a good book, I can read for hours but if I fall asleep, I can pick up the story in my head the next night”.

“I love to read books.  My absolute favourite book is called ” Lily Alone” by Jacqueline Wilson and is about a family of young children and their mum (no dad).  Lily is eleven and the oldest.  Her mum leaves her with her brother and sisters to go on holiday with her new boyfriend, Gordon,  but her mum thinks her ex husband Mikey is taking care of them when he did not receive her message properly and Lily is left alone with her younger brother and sisters and is forced to run away and hide in the park in fear that she would be found and taken into care.”

My Experience as a Teacher

I have been a teacher for over 40 years and since 1999 I have been the person who runs Kip McGrath Education Centres in Scotland.  I also continue to run and teach in my own Tutoring Centre in East Kilbride.  I have found that my own experiences since 2005 reflect the findings of the National Literacy Trust and that the reading age of children is on the decline.  This has been a worry for myself and our other Centre Teachers for a number of years in Scotland.  It will be interesting to read what others have to say on this subject.

As a teacher and grandmother to a 4 and 6 year old, I love getting children to realise why they are learning to read as it is so much fun. Even if you are out visiting with your family, no-one thinks it’s rude if you are reading!!

I always give books and book tokens to my family and I think this is very important.  Of course, no matter how hard we try there will always be those children who are reluctant to pick up a book.  That is why we have compiled the list below of some of the most recent magical books which have been highyl accclaimed to inspire even the most reluctant of readers.

Books To Inspire Reluctant Readers:

Early Readers

Elephant & Piggie – We are in a Book! by Mo Willems – Part of the “Learn to Read” series, this is the latest and possibly funniest story yet about Gerald the Elephant & Piggie.  Be prepared to laugh out loud (children and parents alike) when the pair discover that they are actually in a book and can control what the reader says.  What happens when they discover that there are only so many pages left?

Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein It’s time for the little red chicken’s bedtime story —and a reminder from Papa to try not to interrupt. But the chicken can’t help herself! Whether the tale is HANSEL AND GRETEL or LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD or even CHICKEN LITTLE, she jumps into the story to save its hapless characters from doing some dangerous or silly thing. Now it’s the little red chicken’s turn to tell a story, but will her yawning papa make it to the end without his own kind of interrupting?

Princess Poppy Series – The Tooth Fairy by Janey Louise Jones –A brilliant fairytale adventure that little princesses will love, Princess Poppy – The Tooth Fairy comes complete with a lovely pink tooth bag and is guaranteed to reassure little ones when their teeth come loose! With adorable illustrations and an easy to read and easy to follow plot, this is a wonderful bedtime story that kids will ask for time and time again. Poppy is desperate for a visit from the tooth fairy but her teeth just won’t come loose!

Middle Readers

Molly Moon’s Incredible Book of Hypnotism by Georgia Byng – Molly Moon is treated like dirt in her squat English orphanage, with only her pal Rocky, starry Qube soda ads, and the library stacks to give her comfort. After she discovers Hypnotism: An Ancient Art Explained in her favorite library spot, Molly begins learning the ropes and takes mental control of Petula, the orphanage’s grumpy pug dog, and the nasty staff members. But when Molly finds out that Rocky’s been suddenly adopted in New York, she hypnotizes her way to the city, into Broadway stardom, and — unfortunately — into a wicked professor’s plot to rob a high-security bank. Thankfully, though, she and Rocky finally meet up, and with a few surprises, the two hatch a plan to set things right for themselves and for their orphanage.

Gangsta Granny by David Walliams

Another hilarious and moving novel from bestselling, critically acclaimed author David Walliams, the natural successor to Roald Dahl.  A story of prejudice and acceptance, funny lists and silly words, this new book has all the hallmarks of David’s previous bestsellers. Our hero Ben is bored beyond belief after he is made to stay at his grandma’s house. She’s the boringest grandma ever: all she wants to do is to play Scrabble, and eat cabbage soup. But there are two things Ben doesn’t know about his grandma. 1) She was once an international jewel thief. 2) All her life, she has been plotting to steal the crown jewels, and now she needs Ben’s help…

Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes – Twelve-year-old Lanesha lives in a tight-knit community in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward. She doesn’t have a fancy house like her uptown family or lots of friends like the other kids on her street. But what she does have is Mama Ya-Ya, her fiercely loving caretaker, wise in the ways of the world and able to predict the future. So when Mama Ya-Ya’s visions show a powerful hurricane – Katrina – fast approaching, it’s up to Lanesha to call upon the hope and strength Mama Ya-Ya has given her to help them both survive the storm.

A Tale Dark & Grimm by Adam Gidwitz -F0rget everything you know about Hansel and Gretel. What you were told was the lite version, where all the interesting violent bits got cut out, or so the omniscent narrator of A Tale Dark And Grimm would have us believe. AND YOU GUYS, A Tale Dark And Grimm is WAY more kick ass, than the Hansel and Gretel we remember .

The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz – What would happen to a fairy if she lost her wings and could no longer fly?  Flory, a young night fairy no taller than an acorn and still becoming accustomed to her wings — wings as beautiful as those of a luna moth — is about to find out.

Older Readers

Artichoke Hearts by sita BrahmAchari – Twelve-year-old Mira comes from a chaotic, artistic and outspoken family where it’s not always easy to be heard. As her beloved Nana Josie’s health declines, Mira begins to discover the secrets of those around her, and also starts to keep some of her own. She is drawn to mysterious Jide, a boy who is clearly hiding a troubled past and has grown hardened layers – like those of an artichoke – around his heart. As Mira is experiencing grief for the first time, she is also discovering the wondrous and often mystical world around her. This is an incredibly insightful, honest novel exploring the delicate balance, and often injustice, of life and death – but at its heart is a celebration of friendship, culture – and life. This book is the winner of the 2011 Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize.

Rise of the Wolf – Werewold by Curtis Jobling ‘You’re the last of the werewolves son. Don’t fight it…Conquer it.’ When the air is clear, sixteen year-old Drew Ferran can pick up the scent of a predator. When the moon breaks through the clouds, a terrifying fever grips him. And when a vicious beast invades his home, his flesh tears, his fingers become claws, and Drew transforms …Forced to flee the family he loves, Drew seeks refuge in the most godforsaken parts of Lyssia. But when he is captured by Lord Bergan’s men, Drew must prove he is not the enemy. Can Drew battle the werecreatures determined to destroy him – and master the animal within?

100 Best First Lines from Novels

From the moment I picked up my first Enid Blyton book as a young girl I have been obsessed with reading.  I love books and have often been known to read through the night for that special book.  The satisfaction of coming across a great book that you just can’t put down is one of my greatest pleasures in life.  That will sound incredibly dull to many but I know there are many lovers of literature out there who feel the same as me.

That’s why I wanted to share this list of the 100 best first opening lines from Novels which was published by the American Book Rewiew in September 2010, although I only stumbled upon it today.

There are so many great books on this list including my favourite at number 65.

“You better not never tell nobody but God” – Alice Walker, The Colour Purple

I also realised from this list that there are so many books that I have not yet read and it has inspired me to head to the library tomorrow.  I wonder if I can manage to read all of the books on the list?

The top ten in the list are:

1. Call me Ishmael.  —Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851)

2. It is a truth  universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune,  must be in want of a wife. —Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)

3. A screaming comes across  the sky. —Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow (1973)

4. Many years later, as he  faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant  afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. —Gabriel García  Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967; trans. Gregory Rabassa)

5. Lolita, light of my  life, fire of my loins. —Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955)

6. Happy families are all  alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. —Leo Tolstoy,  Anna Karenina (1877;  trans. Constance Garnett)

7. riverrun, past Eve and  Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of  recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs. —James Joyce, Finnegans  Wake (1939)

8. It was a bright cold day  in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. —George Orwell, 1984 (1949)

9. It was the best of  times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of  foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it  was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of  hope, it was the winter of despair. —Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two  Cities (1859)

10. I am an invisible man.  —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)

To read the full list go to http://americanbookreview.org/100BestLines.asp

Is your favourite there?  Do you agree with their results and why are there only 2 entries in the last decade?  Surely there must be some recent books that merit a mention?  I think I may start my own list and ask friends and colleagues to participate.  Please feel free to add your own nomination in the comments below.

This article was written by our guest blogger, Kirsty McHugh who is PA to Margaret Carmichael at www.kipmcgrath.co.uk/scotland