Five reasons why reading is good for your health

I am a complete book worm. I love reading, delving into new worlds, learning new things and improving my vocabulary. In my opinion, you should too! Here are some reasons why…

In my first years of studying I took an English course to improve my language skills. It was a nice surprise then, when I found out two of the books we had to read were already on my own ‘to read’ list! I thought this was wonderful because not only was I able to study and understand the language of these books, but got to enjoy the course in many more ways. It didn’t feel like work, which is always the dream!

So, what are the benefits of reading, and can I convince more of you to do it?

  • Reading reduces stress

I have a rule that every night I do my best to read a few chapters before going to bed. Since doing so I have had much longer and deeper sleep and find I am more productive throughout the day.  Reading helps you forget your worries as you focus on the story. After a few chapters, things will seem much less stressful than they did before. The article linked below adds more to the case.

 https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/5070874/Reading-can-help-reduce-stress.html

  • You will learn new things

I have just finished reading Deborah Harkness’ vampire trilogy and could not believe how many facts and so much history one author packed into such them! It’s amazing what you can discover when you pick up a book and start reading. You could even find an interest in something you’d never heard of before.

  • Your memory will improve

One of the best things about reading is it can improve your memory no matter what your age. It has also been linked to longevity, helping to prevent Alzheimer’s and just keeping your memory sharper than it would be without. So why wouldn’t you want to read? The link below has more about this.

https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/risk-factors-and-prevention/how-reduce-your-risk-dementia 

  • It can fuel your creativity

Sometimes you can feel like you’ve hit a brick wall with a particular essay. This may mean you need a break, but rather than watching some TV, I find that picking up a book unrelated to your course can give your mind a better chance to relax and think more clearly. It’s a great way to press pause and will often help us to go back and break that wall.

  • You’ll find your focus improving

Ever been sat on the sofa or propped up in bed with a good book, glanced over at the clock and realised a few hours have passed since you sat down? Well that is a sure sign your focus is working and a great indication that you’re relaxing too. When reading you are focusing on all the words, the story, turning pages and thinking ahead, which is a lot of multitasking, meaning your focus is automatically improved!

The next time you’re undecided whether to pick something off the shelf to read, then, I recommend you don’t hesitate!

 

 

The celebrated explorer, navigator and cartographer James Cook was born on October 27th, 1728 in the village of Marton, near Middlesbrough. He was from a large farming family, and helped out at home until he was 16. He then took an apprenticeship with a shopkeeper, but never settled, and soon swapped to another apprenticeship, this time working on coal ships. James loved the work, and in 1752 he passed the exams which would eventually enable him to help command a ship.

The Mariner’s Museum records how Cook, “…completed his three-year apprenticeship in April 1750, then went on to volunteer for the Royal Navy. He would soon have the opportunity to explore and learn more about seafaring. He was assigned to serve on the HMS Eagle where he was quickly promoted to the position of captain’s mate due to his experience and skills. In 1757, he was transferred to the Pembroke and sent to Nova Scotia, Canada, to fight in the Seven Years’ War.” During this war, Cook’s skills as a surveyor and cartographer were put to great use and led him to plan many attacks.

In 1760, Cook helped map the entire coast of Newfoundland. Once again, his exceptional mapping skills brought him attention, particularly that of the Royal Society and Admiralty, who would use his maps for voyages for the next 200 years.

On 30th July, 1768, Cook set off on his first great expedition, aboard the Endeavour, with a crew of 84. Amongst them were several scientists, their mission being to record the journey on new maps and explore as many unknown lands as possible.

In 1769 the Endeavour reached South America. Proceeding further, the crew set up a research base in Tahiti, which they named Fort Venus. One of Cook’s most renowned achievements occurred on June 3rd that year, when the transit of that planet was observed and recorded.

They left Tahiti in August, and sailed blindly for several weeks. It wasn’t until October 6th that land was sighted again, when Endeavour reached the country we now know as New Zealand. Cook named its first feature Poverty Bay. On all his travels, Cook tried to mix with the local populations and collect plant and animal life. In Poverty Bay, however, the native population was unfriendly, so he decided to sail south along the coast. As he did so, Cook noted many of the separate islands that cluster around New Zealand, and he named most; from Bare Island to Cape Turnagain. When the Endeavour turned around to reface the northernmost tip of the island, Cook realised that New Zealand itself was made up of two large separate islands.

In April 1770, Cook spotted the coastline of Australia. He landed in Botany Bay near modern day Sydney, before exploring the area. Then began the long journey back to England, via Batavia in Indonesia, before they finally returned to London in July 1771. A full chart of this first expedition is pictured above.

In 1772, Cook was promoted to full Captain and given command of two ships, the Resolution and Adventure, tasked to look for the Southern Continent. His explorations continued until he was 50, when his interest in the lives of native populations led to his downfall.

Captain Cook’s final voyage took place on board the HMS Resolution, and now he became the first sailor to land a ship on the Hawaiian Islands. This visit was initially successful, and Cook left the island with much information, before heading to America. A few months later he returned to Hawaii – but he’d outstayed his welcome. The local population had tired of him interfering in their way of life and at Kealakekua Bay, while trying to negotiate repairs to his boats, on 14th February, 1779, a fight broke out and he was killed.

James Cook is the first British ship commander to circumnavigate the globe in a lone ship. He is also the first British commander to prevent the outbreak of scurvy by regulating his crew’s diet, by serving them citrus fruit. He charted many regions and recorded many European islands and coastlines for the first time. Cook also provided new information about the Pacific Ocean and its islands. Further, he met with and recorded information about their various peoples. Again, none were previously known at the time.

While his methods would be seen as intrusive today, Cook was a man of his time, and his skill at surveying unexplored lands and seas can’t be denied. The long term importance of Captain Cook’s discoveries, coupled with his fearlessness to do so, have meant that we continue to commemorate his achievements today. A NASA space shuttle is even named Endeavour, after his first ship.

On October 23rd, 1642, on fields between the town of Kineton and the village of Radway, Warwickshire, the first battle of the English Civil War was fought. As the fighting took place in the shadow of the Edgehill escarpment, it became known as the Battle of Edgehill.

Although this was the first battle of the war, the Crown had been in a state of war against Parliament since the 22nd of August that year. King Charles was in conflict with his Parliament because he believed in the Divine Right of Kings; that the monarch should be able to rule however he liked. Charles was particularly insistent that he should be able to raise money for foreign wars as often, and in whatever way, he saw fit. Conversely, Parliament believed they were entitled to a say in the rule of England, and that they had the right to approve or deny funds to the crown without consulting the king.

It was when, in October 1642, as the king’s army headed for London, they met with Parliament’s forces coming in the opposite direction (from Worcester) and blocked the Royalists route to the capital, that physical battle became inevitable. The Parliamentarian force, of approximately 12,500 men, was led by Robert Devereux, Third Earl of Essex (known as the Captain General). King Charles was represented by Patrick Ruthven, the Earl of Forth, from Scotland. He had 13,500 men to his company. Beginning with an exchange of cannon fire at two o’clock in the afternoon, the battle entered into its first active combat situation at three o’clock. As the light faded, only three hours later, the fighting broke off, only to resume again in occasional bouts over the next two days. It ended on the Tuesday, when the Earl of Forth’s men attacked the Parliamentarian baggage train in Kineton.

The battle, which had involved both cavalry and infantry engagements, ended in a stalemate, with between 1,000 and 1500 men dead and over 3000 injured; many of whom later died from their wounds. Although neither side had gained the upper hand, King Charles declared Edgehill a victory for his side, as his troops had opened the road to London, which the Parliamentarians had previously been barring.

Only a few weeks later however, the Earl of Essex had taken control of London, and the Civil War began in earnest. The Battle of Edgehill was the beginning of a war which would see mass disruption to the whole of England, and would not end until King Charles I was captured in 1646. Charles was then executed, sending England into the status of republic for the next 11 years as a under the rule of the victorious Oliver Cromwell.

Imagine if everything you had ever been told was wrong. We are told ‘facts’ and stories all our lives – but how can we know what we are being told is right?

When my daughter first started trying to convince me to home educate her, I countered her arguments ‘for’ with arguments ‘against’ that I had learned from other people: “You need to go to school to socialise with children your age;” “You are better off getting help from a teacher face-to-face;” “You need your peers at school to help you problem-solve”.

The problem was that each response I gave always came with a niggling doubt, mainly because I knew that my years spent studying at home with the Open University were far better and more rewarding than the years I spent studying for my degree with a bricks and mortar ‘traditional’ university. Added to that were my twelve years as a school governor (six as Chair) at a large primary school, where I felt the pushing for targets, associated paperwork and policies, all overshadowed the well-being of the children. I was also concerned that creativity and physical education were being pushed out by government targets and always had that same niggling doubt in my mind that ‘maybe this isn’t the best way’.

Further thought brought me to the realisation that for each ‘against’ I thought of, my brain seemed to automatically register a solution. I knew that socialisation wouldn’t be a problem; I have friends who home-educate and meet up regularly with other home-educating families. There are also numerous opportunities for voluntary work and I knew that if my daughter found some voluntary work in an area that interested her, she would be far more likely to meet like-minded friends with shared interests. The local riding stables are top of the list at the moment. Is she self-disciplined enough? Having watched her concentrate on her work, planning her days, and having her ask me relevant questions, I know the answer is yes. So long as the subject interests her, she will have no trouble completing the work. And that’s the beauty of home schooling – the children can choose the subjects that interest them.

My daughter has had an interest in video editing and IT for a long time – years – and I feel that they are something that she could make a successful career out of. Home-schooling, combined with some ‘unschooling’ (while she works on her video editing and IT) seemed like the ideal combination to give her a strong start in her working adult life.

And so our journey into home schooling has begun. It’s early days yet but the support so far from Oxford Home Learning has been impressive and I can honestly say that, as yet, I haven’t had any regrets in taking this path.

We understand that waiting to find out your exam results can be an extremely nerve-wracking experience. It is important to know that feeling some kind of stress is a completely natural reaction. But, if it becomes persistent, if it never gives you a moment’s peace, it is important to take action to stop those nerves from affecting your health and well-being.

Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist at Priory Group has looked at ways you can reduce your stress to prevent it from affecting your physical and mental health. Some of her suggestions are as below.

It’s Good to Talk

There will always be someone you can talk to when you feel worried about your exam results or your future. Whether it is a parent, carer or friend, you should discuss your thoughts and emotions with them when you feel troubled. A parent might be able to help you challenge your worries by providing you with evidence that your thoughts are not a balanced view. For example, they will be able to reassure you about how much revision you did and how well you have performed in past exams.

You may want someone to lend an ear or distract you with a quick chat or offer of advice. By taking the time to access this emotional support, you have the opportunity to let off steam and is so doing prevent your feelings from boiling over. There are also supportive charities like Child Line and the Samaritans who can be contacted anonymously over the phone or through web chat.

Breathe Deeply

When you get anxious, your “fight or flight” response kicks in, where your body releases adrenaline and increases your heart rate. Breathing deeply can help your body to settle down to a more natural state. Imagine, then, blowing into a balloon: As you take a deep breath in, notice your stomach rising as you allow your lungs to take in the maximum amount of air. Then slowly breathe out imagining you are filling the balloon with air. Try and do this three times.

Keep Yourself Busy

Try and ensure you have structure and activities each day. For example, give yourself a project to complete over the summer, look at voluntary or part-time work, organise social activities with your friends and help out at home. If you keep yourself busy, you have less time to sit and dwell on your thoughts. You will also feel better about yourself as you have been able to achieve something.

Getting Good Quality Sleep

We understand that getting a good night’s sleep may seem impossible because of your nerves, but it is important to try your hardest to get into a good routine. Go to bed and wake up at similar times every day, and make your bedroom a relaxing space, with any screens turned off at least an hour before bedtime. Avoid caffeinated drinks in the hours before bedtime and try to fit in at least twenty minutes of exercise each day – but again, not too close to bedtime.

Form a Plan for Results Day

Think about all the possible outcomes on results day, and jot them down. Then, write a potential plan for each one. For example, if you were to get your expected grades, what happens; If you get lower than expected, what would your next steps be?

This can help you to recognise that there are options and a future for you, regardless of what happens. It can stop yourself from worrying about the unknown, because it means you have a plan for every scenario.

Tackle Your Negative Thoughts

It is easy to gravitate towards the worst case scenario when you’re feeling anxious. Do you believe you failed your exam spectacularly? Do you think you’re going to get terrible grades across the board? There are steps you can take to question and alter these thoughts:

  • At the end of each day, jot down any moments when you felt like this. Write down what you thought at the time.
  • Next, write down the evidence you have contradicting that negative thought. What goes against it? For example, if you thought, “I’m going to fail everything,” think about the hours of revision and preparation you put in for your exams.

Then, write down a healthier way of thinking about the situation. For example, instead of thinking that you’ve failed an exam, you may want to think, “I know it was tough, but I worked so hard that I know I tried it my best. I’m proud of the work I put in.”

Completing this activity at the end of every day will stop you from focusing on potential negative outcomes during this stressful time.

Getting Support

If your stress levels don’t seem to be getting any better, you should visit your GP. They will be able to provide you with the right support you may need at this time.

From Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, to Liz Fenwick’s The Cornish House, Cornwall has provided the backdrop to some of the bestselling fiction of all time.

Inspired by the landscape around her, Du Maurier’s novels, which were largely written at her home, Menabilly, near Fowey, give an instantly recognisable image of Cornwall gone by. From the smugglers of Jamaica Inn to the tension of Frenchmen’s Creek, if you didn’t already know her books were set in Cornwall, the scenic descriptions alone would immediately give it away.

For many authors and readers, it is the landscape of Cornwall itself that provides the atmosphere for their story. Neither is it confined to suiting just one or two genres: From the romance of the sandy beach to the suspense and adventure of pirates and smugglers’ tales, to the chills of a deserted, haunted tin mine; even a dose of crisp Cornish sea air can tell a story.

Cornwall, originally Kernow, retains a sense of separation from the rest of Britain. A proud Celtic land defined by incredible geology and geography, surrounded by the sea, devoid of motorways, and set off against the bleak majesty of Bodmin Moor, it is a terrain that simply provokes imagination. Potters, artists and writers alike have honed in on its inspirational qualities for centuries. The narrow roads habitually marked with a distinctive strip of grass down the middle, and the abundance of cream teas (jam goes on the scone before the cream here), makes Britain’s most South-westerly county the perfect setting for romances and women’s fiction. Contemporary writers such as Jenny Kane, Karen King and Philippa Ashley take full advantage of its romantic appeal: the possibilities of getting lost along Cornwall’s hedge-lined lanes, only to be rescued by a handsome stranger, for example…

Television has taken Cornish-based fiction to its heart over the last fifty years. The current retelling of Winston Graham’s classic Poldark novels on television has led to a massive increase in tourism to the Charlestown area, where much of the action is filmed. The dramatic landscapes alone are a great pull for the screen audience, and it has also meant the Graham novels are selling at a rate they haven’t done since Poldark’s last televised adaptation in the 1980’s.

It not just British audiences who flock to Cornwall to visit the locations of its fiction, though. German readers are aware of a phenomenon known as “Pilcher mania.” This refers to the deep love the German reading community has for the work of bestselling novelist Rosamund Pilcher. Such are the numbers of German tourists visiting Cornwall to see the various locations of Pilcher’s novels that in 2013 The Guardian researched the issue. Although the novels were popular in their own right, it was only after The Day of the Storm was shown on German television in 1993- which was watched by 8 million viewers- that the Pilcher trail was set up. “The directors film it so well,” says Mark Pilcher (one of the author’s four children), “that it has moved on from people buying my mother’s books to Cornwall actually selling them.” Claus Beling, who came up with the idea of turning Pilcher’s work into film believed the success of the adaption was down to a general German fascination and nostalgic longing for a more traditional world, “…where a village is still a community in which everyone looks after one another.” This nostalgic feel that Cornwall evokes is certainly part of the appeal of Cornish fiction in general. We are reminded of childhood holidays, of carefree seaside moments and a freedom that everyday adult life denies us.

Cornwall is not the only place in the UK which inspires a profusion of fiction, of course. The Cotswolds, with its picture-postcard villages, and the striking scenery of both the Lake District and the Highlands of Scotland, are all locations which guarantee an author sales, simply because so many people enjoy books set in those places.

Whether you are inspired by the sight of Tintagel and its association with the tales of King Arthur, the children’s classic, Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper, or you are beguiled by Mary Wesley’s The Camomile Lawn, there is no doubt that Cornwall has a “certain something” that keeps readers coming back again and again for some ‘Cornish set’ fictional escapism.

When my son chose his GCSEs neither of us mentioned his dyslexia; there was no need. The moment we began talking about academic subjects and exams, he knew we had entered a realm in which he is automatically disadvantaged. It’s a realm that makes him visibly nervous and noticeably reduces his confidence. And he’s only too aware that it’s a realm his siblings have thrived in, easily outstripping him at every turn.

My dyslexic son has always had an uncomfortable relationship with reading and he dreads writing. Spelling is a total mystery to him. He is easily distracted from his studies as printed words and numbers inevitably fail to hold his attention if anything else, from a snoring cat to a buzzing fly, is in the vicinity. We both know his memory is terrible.

Over the years I’ve encountered “experts” who’ve implied dyslexia is a beast best subjugated through hard work and willpower. Armed with the hefty, clumsy weapons of extra work, support and tests, every dyslexic should, according to them, fight the good fight until they emerge victorious. If at first the dyslexic doesn’t succeed they must try, try, try again… until they’re the same as everyone else!

These experts do not understand dyslexia. If my son attended school then I have little doubt we would be pressured to obey this well-intentioned, results-driven but ultimately unrealistic model. Because the majority of children, teachers and examiners do not have dyslexia, non-dyslexics have precedence in our nation’s education system. Sadly, this leaves dyslexics misunderstood and struggling to keep up with their peers. The expert approach swallows up their free time with supplementary work and usually only serves to dent their self-esteem.

Home-schooling has, without a doubt, increased and improved my son’s options. He has more freedom to choose GCSE subjects he feels confident about passing, he can defer exams until he’s ready to sit them, isn’t obliged to study ten unrelated subjects per-week, and isn’t being compared to two dozen non-dyslexic classmates in every lesson. Whilst his results are important to us, we as his family view him holistically, not through the narrow lens of academic performance. His GCSE studies take up part of each day but do not dominate his time as a six hour school day followed by homework would; six subjects are studied rather than ten. This has given him more time to pursue his hobbies and interests, which are the things he loves doing  and excels in – the things his dyslexia doesn’t affect.

All this can lead to the questions, am I raising a snowflake; is he a lad so protected from the realities of life that he’ll melt at the first sign of hard work?

My answer is no. I’m helping my dyslexic son to pick his battles wisely. Amongst the GCSEs he’s chosen are Maths and English Language. He will have to work harder than most to pass these difficult, core subjects even though he is studying less overall than he would do in school – the six subjects instead of ten. Because his progress will be much slower and more laborious than other children’s this is a more realistic and fairer goal.

Dyslexia is not a monster that can be fought and defeated. It cannot be slain by gritty determination and hard work alone. However, I believe it is possible to accommodate the limitations faced by dyslexic children. For my son, this has been helped by our decision to home-educate.

Many of you who are doing exams this year will be revising or starting to think about revising. As a tutor, I am often asked, “What should I revise?” The answer is, unfortunately, everything that you have covered in the course. No one except the exam writers know what is going to be in the exams in any single year, so always make sure that you cover everything.

Barnaby Lenon, an ex-headmaster at Harrow, has recently written in a blog that GCSE students should revise their course at least three times. The same applies for A level students, but officially there is no magic number given as to how many times you should do so. Usually, however, it will be more than once. Some lucky people, the exceptions, can read something once and it will “go in”, but more will have to go through the course over and over again for it to sink it. We are all different, and this is the main point with revising – what works for one person will not work for another.

With all this in mind, there are some tips below. Remember, some will work for you, some won’t.

• Find a good place to work. Some of you will like quiet, others will like some noise. We all work best in certain places. Some students may like to work in a library, others in their room, others in a coffee shop. Find a place that works well for you and stick to it.

• What time works best for you? Some people work better early in the morning, others in the afternoon, others late at night. Again, stick to what works for you. If you are a night owl, it’s pointless to try and force yourself to get up early and study – it just won’t work as well. Use your strengths and find the best time to suit you.

• Avoid distractions. There are so many distractions today: mobile phones, television, emails and so on. It can make it hard to study. If you are reading this now but also looking at your social media feed on your phone, for example, it’s doubtful all you are reading will go in. So avoid such distractions if you can. Turn off your phone. Turn off your emails. If you find it hard to do this, give yourself a time limit, “I will revise for one hour, then spend five minutes looking at my phone.”

• With the above point also in mind, some students find it hard to sit down and study for long periods. Others prefer it. Again, you should do what suits you best. If you do find it hard to sit for long periods, give yourself a reward. One student I worked with played volleyball at national level. He found it very hard to sit down for long periods and study. Consequently he was doing hardly any revision. We came up with a plan. He would revise for 50 minutes, then go outside and play with a ball or go for a jog for ten minutes. Then he would revise for 50 minutes again and so on. This worked well for him. You may find a similar reward works for you, looking at your phone, going for a walk, making a cup of tea, watching TV, phoning a friend and so on. Decide on your time limit and give yourself a reward.

• Aim to study for no more than two and a half hours without taking a break. You are probably not revising as well as you would if you carry on revising after that time.

• Making and reading notes and using flashcards can all work well for some students. Others can make recordings of their notes and listen back to them when they are going for a walk or even when they are sleeping at night – Mind maps and memory palaces can also be useful when revising. Again, find a method that works well for you and stick to it.

• If you are reading something and it isn’t sinking in or you don’t understand it. Try a few of the following techniques…
o Read it out loud. When you do this, sometimes it seems to make more sense.
o Try and explain it to someone else – You may find that you know far more than you think you do when you explain it to another person.
o Read it in another way. There are a lot of resources online today, so if you don’t understand your notes or textbook, look online and find another explanation.

• Making a revision timetable for when you intend to revise your subject is also useful. You may be revising for more than one subject, so work out when you are going to study and make a plan for each subject.

• Practice exam papers and old TMAs under “exam conditions.”

• Try to take off a day a week. You decide which day. Take some time off from all that studying.

• Try to start revising as soon as you can. The earlier you start to revise, the more revision you will do.

Remember, you have revised before. You know what has worked well for you and what didn’t. So if you have a good way of revising, stick to it. But if your way hasn’t worked so well, why not try another option from those listed above? There is also of course a lot of advice out there online and in books. The best way to revise is the way that works for YOU! So find your best method and stick to it.

Finally, though success in them is all about your hard work and revision, I am still going to wish you this – Good luck with your exams!

There’s a reason why parents usually push us to learn as much as we can at an early age and that’s because they want us to have time to learn and refine as years go by. You may remember being told that you need to have a certain set of skills to survive in life and to keep up with its demands. And it’s a question that will just keep on being asked. Indeed, as an adult you are going to thank your home and school environment for this. You are going to need and will start putting these skills to good use, starting at secondary school.

You may be wondering, of course, what kind of skills I am referring to. And you are right to do so. The word “skills” may take on different meanings. What I am referring to in this case are the two most important categories: soft and hard skills. Soft skills are the ones mostly connected to your personality and those around you; in other words your interpersonal or people skills. Even if you turn out to be the most introverted person you know, you will, at some point in your life, have to deal with an issue that requires you to address others around you. This is where soft skills come in to play. But which skills are these in particular? Glad you asked! Take a look at the following most important soft skills to start cultivating in school.

1) Communication: We can’t live in a world without communication. Learning to do it the right way, which means learning to actively listen and constructively contribute in order to find a viable solution to a problem, is the best way to go. You can start with your classmates and see where that takes you.

2) Team work: Combined with communication, this soft skill is of vital importance, starting in the classroom. Working with your classmates and being involved in your shared activities, whether it be sports or classwork, will boost your social skills and help you understand and adapt to the different personalities you will meet later in life as well.

3) Flexibility: This does not only concern your schedule. I would suggest that you look at it in a different light, as being flexible as to your opinions, ideas and beliefs. Tolerance is a powerful skill to possess.

4) Motivation: We all have those days when we want to do absolutely nothing. However, motivating yourself and then others can take you a long way into your relationships. How about starting to push yourself a little bit each day? According to research, it only takes 21 days to establish a new habit. Let this be yours. Start with yourself and see how that helps others around you.

5) Patience: They say that patience is key, and that’s definitely true. You can accomplish next to nothing without patience. How about trying to be patient, tolerant, a great listener, and diplomatic in your conversations with your fellow classmates?

We must not, however, forget the necessity of enriching ourselves with some hard skills as well. So, similarly, what do we mean by hard skills and why are they significant? In a few words, hard skills are the ones that you can learn, the learning process of which most likely starts in the classroom. They are also the skills that a prospective employer will be able to check and quantify later in your life. You can find some examples of hard skills below.

1) Learning a new language: did you see that coming? This is one of the most, if not the most, essential skills that you can learn in life. Apart from the fact that knowing a second language could lead to a more lucrative career in the future, possessing such a skill allows you to enter a culture, become familiar with its mindset, its people, its traditions and customs. Knowing a language other than your own acts as a beacon of cultural knowledge. Combined with soft skills such as communication and flexibility this can help you win people over.

2) Technology & Computer skills: you know you’ve got that, right? Whether you learn these at school or at home, these skills are here to stay. As technology advances, so should our knowledge of it in order for us to occupy a place in society. Of course, not all positions later in life require you to be a whizz-kid, but basic computer functions, such as emails and Microsoft Office are deemed imperative even when you are still in school. Take this opportunity and embellish these skills now, so that later you have time to refine them and learn new and more advanced ones should the need arise.

Now it’s time for you to mix and match! You may already possess some of the above and others you’ll probably wish to refine along with the others on the list. Ready, set, go!

One of the wonderful benefits of home education is the flexibility it provides, which can include the ability to travel with our children, learning as we go. With this in mind, my family and I decided to spend a few months on the Costa Tropical in southern Spain, working on improving our Spanish. Whilst there, I thought it may be of interest to record and inform you of some of the experiences we have.

We did the same thing last winter, and despite many people reassuring us that the children would simply absorb the language by having Spanish speakers around us, in fact it really didn’t work like that. For children to pick up very significant amounts of Spanish, or any other language, they really need to be properly immersed in it, having no option but to use it to communicate. This is difficult to do unless the children are immediately around spoken Spanish for 4-6 hours a day at least, which ours weren’t. However, they can still learn plenty of very useful new language in simple day to day situations such as shopping, or by joining Spanish groups and societies. If these societies provide plenty of opportunities to mix with local kids, so much the better.

For any traveller, the first challenge after finding somewhere to stay is finding somewhere to eat, and shopping for food is a goldmine for new and hugely practical vocabulary. Sometimes things are not as obvious as they might seem, however! We saw a grocer holding some bananas labelled with the word “plátanos”, implying that the Spanish for banana is “plátano”.  On the shelf behind him were some more, but this time with a sign that read “banana” – so which was it?! In fact, both are right, Bananas are the type that we buy in the UK, whereas plátanos are a smaller, sweeter variety which is normally grown in the Canary Islands. They’re slightly more expensive, but much nicer than the regular “bananas”.

Elsewhere in the fruit and veg department, there are similar challenges; which sign relates to which item? Like a multiple choice question, we can work out the obvious ones such as “tomate cherry” and “limón”, and make a good guess at the rest. And if we’re still having trouble, nowadays we at least have Google Translate on our phones to double check – no more carrying around a dictionary!

With more travel and more exposure to different languages, educated guesses can really help. While we have to be very aware of “false friends”, we can make a reasonable guess at the fact that “ajo” means “garlic” if we know the French word “ail”. I remember travelling to Portugal as a child and learning that “bacalhau à bras” was a speciality of the country, a surprisingly delicious mix of dried, salted cod, potatoes and eggs. When I spotted “filete de bacalao” in the fish section I therefore felt that it was reasonable to assume that they were stocking frozen cod. French, Spanish and Portuguese share common roots as Latin languages, and children who learn one of them have a huge advantage when it comes to experiencing another.

Having made our food choices, we then needed to negotiate the checkout, and the word you’re likely to hear there is “bolsa?” meaning “bag?”.  It is a colloquial reply if you’ve brought your own and answer: “sin bolsa”, meaning “without bag”, but this is the phrase that is used widely and it is easy to remember.

I’ll be writing more about our stay here and the ways that we’re learning Spanish together as a family, and about the learning experiences that we have while we’re here, so keep checking back to the Oxford Home Schooling blog page for more updates!

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