Michael Gove Gets Us Cooking

A few weeks ago news media reported on Michael Gove’s plan for all children to learn to cook.  This plan features 20 “must learn” recipes.

What’s He Been Smoking?

The recipes, as reported by Telegraph, include French mustard vinaigrette.  Mustard Vinaigrette?

From the comments about each recipe in the Telegraph I can only assume Michael has been passing around whatever he’s been smoking!

Recipe Comment
Cottage pie
uses up leftovers, comforts like lambswool
spiced pulses, incredibly cheap and phenomenally healthy
Tomato sauce
versatile, can be used in at least 10 other dishes
beautiful, energising and aromatic
quite simply essential
Chicken stock
made from roast leftovers; boosts flavour without salt
Pasta and Bean Soup
rib sticking yet oddly elegant
Cornish pasties
easier than you think portable goodness
a novice chef’s first challenge, always delectable
Mussels “marinières”
sustainably farmed seafood, economical and easy
French mustard vinaigrette
eye-watering, transforming
Beef stew
wine-rich and with a strip of orange rind (and dumplings)
Vegtable gratin
heart-warming use of bechamel and melted cheese
Fish pie
rich, popular party food
a life-long lasting lesson in fermentation
Grilled fish with Hollandaise
challenging and ultimately impressive
merits the elbow grease and universally versatile
any one is a masterclass in balancing diverse flavour
Mashed Potato
whipped with butter, velvety smooth
Lancashire hot pot
the easiest stew of all, beloved

What Is The Point?

Well what is the point of forcing all children to learn to cook?

Surely it’s so they can feed themselves without ready meals or a trip to the chippy?

And if feeding yourself is the aim why not focus on enabling people to do that as simply as possible (without resorting to corn flakes – not that there’s anything wrong with cornflakes).

You Have To Have The Ingredients At Home

Surely the simplest is bread and butter – providing you have some bread and butter.

Then you can get more complicated by adding  jam, marmalade,  marmite, pea nut butter or cheese.

Having mastered that how about a sandwich?


Is there anyone who doesn’t love toast? Freshly cooked, hot toast, with butter.

How about cheese on toast or toasted sandwiches.

Bacon And Sausages

My children found bacon and sausages some of the easiest things to start cooking.

Parent’s worry and hot pans and burns – bacon can cook over a medium heat and sausages over a low heat.  Even better there are no heavy pans to lift.

What Have Your Children Achieved If They Can Do This Much?

Independence – they can feed themselves. Maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll get some too. Breakfast in bed?

Hopefully their confidence and pride in their achievements will have  a big boost too.


Fried, scrambled, boiled, omelettes  – eggs are only bit harder than bacon and sausages – at least if you want a fried egg without a broken yolk.

Cake – Or What’s In It For Me

Aren’t cup cakes most children’s introduction to cooking?

My children particularly like chocolate Victoria Sponge which is easy to make.

Do you remember licking the bowl after the cake mixture had been put in the oven?

I always encouraged my children to help even if they were only really watching and getting ingredients out of the cupboard.

Perhaps  because they were familiar with cakes being made they gradually got more involved until they were doing everything (then I was told to go away as I was interfering!).

One of my children has been making cakes by herself since she was 9.

Bread And Pizza

Once you can make a cake bread is only a little bit harder.  I’ve baked my own bread for years. Again, having watched, my children wanted to have a go themselves and soon got to the point they were independent.

As a bonus once you can make dough you can make your own pizza – with the help of the next recipe.

Italian Tomato Sauce

Chop up and fry some garlic and onions in olive oil.  Add some (lots!) of herbs.  Then a tin of chopped tomatoes.  Let it simmer away for a bit, then  blitz with a whizzer.

You can eat as it is with pasta, or return to a low heat and let it simmer away until it becomes thick and put on your pizza.

Chopping onions might seem simple to a grown up – but it takes a while for children to learn.  They’re hands are smaller, they’re not so strong and being smaller their eyes are closer to the onions – which means their eyes are more likely to water.

Pasta And Rice

Pans of boiling water are obviously more dangerous than a frying pan over a low heat.

Also a full pan is almost certainly to heavy for a pre-teenager to lift, so this is best done by you.

But children can still help by measuring out the rice or pasta, and  serving out once cooked.

Chicken Breast  And Steak

If you can cook bacon you can cook steak.  Just put some butter or olive oil in a frying pan and fry for a few minutes on each side, depending on how well done you like your steak.

Chicken breasts can be fried in butter, though these take a bit longer than steak (though you can always cut them into strips so they cook quicker).

Alternatively brown on both sides then add some water (or white wine) and herbs, put a lid on the pan and simmer for 15 or 20 minutes.  Turn the breasts over half way through. If the liquid boils away just add some more.


Tomato sauce is a sort of vegetable stew.  A meat stew is similar.  Fry some onions (and may be garlic). Cut the meat into pieces (say 1 inch cubes) fry for a bit then add some liquid (water or stock) + tomaotes if you wish.  Cover and leave to simmer away gently for a few hours (the lower the heat and longer the cooking the tenderer the meat will be).

Pastry Pies Pasties

If you can make a cake or bake bread why not try pastry?

Then, if you have already made a stew, you can make pies and pasties.

What If You’ve Never Cooked?

Pick one thing, maybe the simplest thing but something you think you’d like and give it a go and see what happens

It may not work out perfectly the first time, but if you keep trying it’s bound to improve.

Even if it was brilliant at the first go, still keep at it. Things almost always get even better with practice.

John Torode (the aussie guy on master chef) says he’s constantly amaze that people who would never expect to sit down with an orchestra and give a performance of a piano concerto (without ever having learned to play) beat themselves up when they cook a dish for the first time and it does turn out as stunningly as they hoped!

Delia Doesn’t Agree

Interview on Radio 5 live, Delia wondered how schools will by enough teachers and fund classrooms with kitchens.  Good point – though some schools already teach cooking (although it’s called Food Technology for some reason).

Delia also said young people were “afraid to cook” and that much TV cookery failed to “get down to basics”.  Surely all this means is cooking is something they’re not familiar with. The best cure for that is patience and practice – just have a go.

Isn’t home the best place to cook?

Anyway who is Peppa Pig?


PE Teachers Talk Too Much

Ofsted publised a report last week  “Beyond 2012 – outstanding physical education for all“. Blogs and papers were awash with comments such as

Independent   – Schools taking physical out of PE, warns Ofsted

Telegraph Teachers talk too much in PE

The report is 68 pages long!!!. When I searched I only found “talk” occurred twice (page 6 and 35 if you must know),  both times as “teacher-talk”. So perhaps the newspapers are over-egging the cake (who would have thought it).

On the other had at 68 pages long, and with para 44 as an example.

44. In this school with outstanding PE, excellent improvement planning accompanied
by rigorous monitoring and evaluation ensured that all aspects of PE were

Leadership of PE is inspirational, dedicated and informed by a high level of subject expertise. There is a strong track record in introducing new approaches and ideas. Improvement priorities are clearly set out in an annual plan of action. PE, dance and sport have a very high profile in displays, assemblies and the life of the school. Staff have benefited significantly from targeted professional development and an exceptionally well-organised approach to curriculum planning and resourcing. Subject monitoring and evaluation are rigorous and systematic, and include lesson observations, auditing the views of staff and pupils, and analysing pupils’ participation in extra-curricular activities and competitions. Improvements in provision and pupils’ many achievements are reported regularly to the governing body who take a keen interest in the subject.

I wonder just who is talking too much?

Once again I found myself wondering why so much emphasis is put on schools.  After all pupils only spend about 6 hours a day there, which means 3/4 of day is not spent at school.

Even allowing for sleeping, eating, watching TV and playing computer games there’s surely a bit of time left for a bit of exercise.

As PE teachers are spending so long waffling on even 5 minutes might be an improvement.

Curiously the last time a similar story appeared (last week) I remember seeing some former sports instructor on BBC News explaining if people (that’s grown ups as well as children) spent just 5 minutes a day on some simple stretching and push-ups everyone’s fitness would improve dramatically.  One of the presenters was game enough to have a go (Charlie I think).  From the look of his face afterwards I reckon there was some value in these exercises.

Years ago I remember Kirk Douglas talking about his exercise on a TV interview (Parkinson no doubt).  Kirk said he did 15 minutes of exercise a day (remember his classy chassis?).

The audience burst out laughing.

Kirk was good natured about it, though he pressed home the point

“But I do it every day”.

 If my experience with children is anything to go by, they don’t need any encouragement to go outside and play.  Especially when the snow comes, when they think nothing of spending an hour or so running around outside.

Which leads me to the question – How big is your snowball?




A Simple Tip From Influence And Persuasion Can Help Your Parenting

Influence and persuasion is one of the most studied of all subjects in the world. Parenting involves both influence and persuasion.  Can parents learn from those who study influence and persuasion?

Try thinking of a job which involves either or both of influence and persuasion.

  • Acting
  • Politics
  • Advocacy
  • Sales
  • Marketing
  • Teaching
  • Managing
  • Healing

The list goes on, it would be easier to think of a job which doesn’t involve influence and persuasion – so far I’ve not thought of one.

As influence and persuasion is so important to sales and marketing, it has been massively studied.  One of the preeminent authors in this field is Robert B Cialdini, his most famous book is

Influence: the science of persuasion


Yes! – 50 scientifically proven ways to be more persuasive

is every bit as much worth a read, especially for parents as it provide 50 helpful tips.

Have you ever had to persuade your children to

  • go to bed
  • do their homework
  • tidy their room

Tip 14 – “How can one small step help your influence take a giant leap” – can help

Research has found when people voluntarily agree to a small request they are much more likely to agree to a larger request later.  The key is the first agreement must be voluntary and not through coercion.

So for example if you want your child to tidy her room you could first ask she puts a pair of shoes away.

If you want you child to do some homework you  could first ask they read you a poem.

Note the initial request need not be related to the second larger request so you could first ask to be read a poem then later ask to tidy their bedroom.




Give it a try, let me know how you get on.

Rising Youth Unemployment – How You Can Help Your Children

There is much in the media about poor maths and English contributing towards the high and rising levels of unemployment for young people. Here is an article from BBC website published today.

However academic standards are not the only issue and may not even be the biggest problem. Nikki King, managing director of Isuzu Trucks, was guest of the day on BBC Daily Politics on 14 November. One of the things which Nikki said stopped her employing young people was their attitude to work. For example, they think it is OK to go for lunch and not come back afterwards.  Obviously this is only one person’s opinion, but if this opinion is stopping people getting jobs it is serious.  If this opinion is shared across industry, as it seems to be, then it is very serious.

So, in practical terms, what can you as a parent do to help your children.  It seems unlikely that every single young person will have the same attitudes so how can you encourage you children to stand out as different, someone any employer would be keen to hire.

It’s easy to forget that if an employer is advertising a vacancy, they want to fill it.  No employer (or no normal employer) wants to keep interviewing as this takes time which could be used elsewhere in the business to earn money.   So all your children have to do is get a prospective employer to think

This is the one for me.

Encourage them to be a giver not a taker.  Employment is, after all, about providing a service to another person or business.  Any prospective employer will be put off by someone who is focused on what they get, but will be much keener on a prospective employee who is focused on what they can do for their employer.

It’s never to late to learn skills such as maths and English.  Even if your children are good at these subjects they can improve.  If nothing else regular practice prevents getting rusty. You can help your children using the ideas

Employers seem to be looking for previous experience.  This is an indication that a prospective employee has been tried out by someone else and found to be useful and reliable.

How about a part time job whilst still at school?  Or volunteer for a local charity.

Alternatively why not encourage your children to start their own part time business.  There seems to be no end of people with chores to be done and not enough time to do them.

  • Cleaning
  • Ironing
  • Gardening
  • Baby sitting
  • Caddying at golf club
  • Delivering papers

None of these are new, I did some of these myself when a teenager.  They are unlikely to make anyone rich but should provide some pocket money.  Anyway the purpose is not to become rich but for your child to show a prospective employer that they have a record of being a useful and reliable employee.

If the business does make them rich that’s not likely to be a problem.  Warren Buffett started a business delivering papers which earned him around $175/month in the early 1940s (yes that’s $175 in 1940s money) when he was around 14!  He later used the money he saved to start investing in shares.

How about developing a skill such as

  • playing piano
  • playing tennis
  • playing chess

This is another way for your children to demonstrate they have the ability to learn and the  motivation to stick with it.

There’s no point in forcing someone to learn a skill if they’re not interested.  But having an interest says something to a potential employer.  Would you, as an employer, be keen on someone who had no interests?

Finally just encourage your children. Too many people settle for less than they hoped for, so if your children have a dream encourage them to follow it.




Are School Holidays Too Long?

BBC Breakfast carried a story today about somewhere in England, Nottingham I think, that wants to have shorter summer holidays. I don’t know why BBC News was carrying this story today as telegraph had this story in June and guardian in July. Perhaps then it was just a proposal and now it is going to be implemented.

The motivation for this idea comes from research in US which found that children from poorer backgrounds tended to drop back during school holidays whereas children from better of backgrounds tended not to. Malcom Gladwell wrote about this at length in Outliers. In fact reading Outliers and following up the references was a major spur to me writing my report Seven Little Mistakes which you can download here for free.

I think Outliers is a wonderful book and I urge everyone to read it.

The key sections relevant to longer school terms (at least as far as I can tell) are.

  • The work of Annettte Lareau described in chapter 4, page 102 of my copy.
  • The work of Karl Alexander described in chapter 9, page 255 of my copy.

Annette found that there were two parenting styles which split roughly along class lines.

Better off parents were heavily involved in their children’s activities when not at school.  It’s not that they they coached their children directly, but they made sure their children had plenty of stimulating things to do. AND these parents took an active interest in what their children were doing, i.e. they talked to their children about what they had been doing.

Poorer parents tended to care for their children but let them grow and develop on their own.

Karl found that better off and poor children learned as much during term times BUT during holidays, particularly the summer holiday, better off children continued to learn (even without being taught explicitly) whereas children from poorer backgrounds tended to stand still.  With each holiday the gap between better off and poorer children widened.

By the way I have given a very brief summary here, Outliers has much more detail. And you can read the original research.

Well this may all be interesting but so what, in particular does it have anything to guide us about having shorter school holidays?

As better off children continue to learn during holidays it is obviously not necessary to continue school in its normal term time fashion.  But why not keep the school open and run a series of activities that would interest and stimulate the children.

Attendance need not be compulsory, but if the activities were interesting enough children would want to go.  Isn’t results lead achievement all the rage these days?  Some parents would welcome the help with child care.

A more or less random list of things that spring to mind are

  • Sports
  • Orchestra
  • Form a choir
  • Rock School (lets all form a band)
  • Learn another language
  • Write a book
  • Produce a  television program and put it on YouTube
  • Older children could listen to younger children read
  • Older children could teach younger children science or maths
  • Plan to run a business
  • Run a business for real
  • Make a robot
  • Make a boat
  • Build a website
  • Provide entertainment for elderly people

The list goes on, but the general idea is to find practical uses for what has been learned during term time?

For all the moaning of decline Britain can produce world class musicians.  The The Brit School has been instrumental (pun intended) in a number of outstanding careers.

I don’t now a great deal about the The Brit School but I did see a short interview with the headmaster. He said something like

I don’t see it as my place to direct people. I see my role as providing an environment where people can develop their own ideas.

 I see ‘school’ during school holidays as something like this.

What do you think?






What Did You Do Today To Help Your Children Learn?

One of the ways that we learn is by copying those around us.
This is particularly so for young children.

So even if you are not actively or consciously trying to help your children learn just by having them around you whilst you’re doing stuff will help them learn.

If nothing else they will notice what you spend time on and assume the things you spend time on are more important to you.

So if you are busy with work and never have time to play, your children will register that working is more important than playing with them.

If you cook your own food your children will register that taking time to  prepare your food is time well spent, especially if they enjoy the food.

You can involve your children to some extent by talking about what your doing as you do it.

In this why they will not only see the things you do, but also learn the reasons why you are doing them.

You can involve them even more by letting them get involved.
Sure things may take a bit longer, there may be a bit more mess and occassionally you’ll have to do the task all over again your self.

We learn by practice and making mistakes is part of practice and as they say if you learn from a mistake,  it’s not a mistake.

After my youngest daughter had watched me make a cake a few times she asked if she could help.  After a few more cakes she asked if she could do it all herself. After a few more times she told me to go out of kitchen as she knew what to do.

So now she bakes cakes (and bread) for me!

Reading is a key skill for learning and earning.  Most jobs require the ability to read and it’s hard to have an education without being able to read.

You can really help by spending a few minutes a day listening to your children read. If nothing else you are showing that reading and listening to them read is important enough for you to devote some of your time to.  But you can also help them pronounce words they struggle with, help them if they lose their place and spot if they miss words or read words that aren’t there.

It doesn’t take much to make a difference and every little helps.

So what did you do today?
If it was nothing, there’s always tomorrow.

Help Your Children These 7 Stages Of Learning To Read

There are several skills that need to be practiced to master reading. Parents are ideally placed to help their children to gain these skills and be able to see, recognize and understand.

  1. New born babies can see but they tend to be able to focus between 8 and 15 inches, which is about the distance of their mothers face when breast feeding. Over the next few months they ability to focus on more distance objects grows. You can help by giving them interesting things to look at such as a mobile.
  2. The first skill in learning to read is being able to recognize the different shapes which letters are built from (lines curves dots etc). It is known from experiments that kittens who are denied the opportunity to see certain patterns, for example diagonal lines, during a critical period of their development can not see these patterns once the block is removed and never develop the ability to see them. You can help by surrounding your baby or toddler an environment rich in different types of shapes and symbols (horizontal, diagonal, vertical lines, circles squares). Young children’s eyes are not so good at focusing so larger patterns are better (around 2 to 4 inches).
  3. As babies grow they learn to recognize distinct objects and as they learn to speak they learn to name them. Cat, dog, mama, dada, car, tractor. They also learn to recognize pictures of objects and there are many books with these pictures in. However leaving a toddler in a room with a book and saying “Get on with it I want you to be finished by the time I get back” is not likely to be very effective. Interaction with a parent turns learning into a fun game.
  4. Children learn to recognize the shapes of different letters and associate them with sounds. Sometimes as individual letters or in groups, such as the familiar short words such as cat dog ball sun. The larger the font the better, at least 72pt.

    Many books for young children feature pictures of objects and their names so children can learn by association to recognize the just the names. Talking and reading to children helps strengthen these associations.

  5. Everyone loves a story and reading to your children associate books reading with stories and entertainment. Children will by now have started to make their mark on things including drawing painting and writing numbers letters and words which ties in with reading. We don’t just read what other people have written we can read what we have written and write for other people to read.

    In addition to continuing to read to your child listen to them read to you. Your presence helps keep their attention focused on what they are doing. You can help them pronounce words that they struggle with and ensure that they are not missing words or lines.

  6. Talk about the stories and the characters in the stories how did people feel? Why did they do the things they did? What happened to them before the story started to make them behave the way they did? What happens after the story ends?

    So reading ties in with thinking and creating new scenes and will feed back into writing.

  7. An understanding of what the characters have experienced and are feeling gives children tools to portray the words spoken by different characters in different ways, a gateway to acting.

    Children should be able to answer questions about the stories. At first this may just be repeating words or sentences verbatim from the story. As they grow they should be able to talk about the story, explain the actions and motivation in different words to those used in the story.

    So the process of reading, thinking and then describing shows they have been able to absorb the information in the story, understand it think about it and explain it at a deeper level than just repeating the text.

Seven Simple But Specific Ways For Parents to Help Their Children Learn

As a parent you can make a major contribution to your children’s learning by regularly spending short amounts of time helping them read and write. Not least because you will help them acquire the habit of reading, writing and learning. If your children can see that these are things you do then they are even more likely to get the habit too.

1) Read to your children and listen to them read. Help them pronounce words and understand what they mean. Young children and even some older ones may have difficulty tracking across the page and may often miss lines (and words within a line). They may also read words that are not there.

2) Ask Questions. Asking questions is a great way to get people talking and thinking. How do you feel? How do you think other people are feeling? What happens after a story ends? How do things work? What would you like? What do you hate? This helps to develop vocabulary and richer descriptions. Other wise we are left with “don’t know, it’s nice, it’s not nice, cool”

3) Write. Writing itself requires practice, starting with strokes loops and other shapes that are the building blocks of letters. Encourage your children to write letters, stories and plays. Encourage the use of more and richer describing words. For example, “The dog ran down the corridor” is less descriptive than “The huge angry dog ran in giant bounds down the ancient cloistered corridor.”

4) Regular short sessions are better than infrequent long ones. For are start they are short!! This leaves more time for fun. Knowledge tends to fade if not used but regular sessions allow you to ensure that what has been learned is reviewed often and so is not forgotten. Once you establish a pattern of regular sessions it becomes part of normal daily life.

5) Practice what you preach. Let it be seen that what you are showing your children is actually part of your daily life. Your children are more likely to copy what you do than to follow an instruction “do what I say – not what I do”. Leading by example is one of the best ways to encourage them to make what they are learning part of their lives.

6) Encourage a sense of interest and wonder about everything and anything. Establish the habit of being curious. To be interesting be interested, in the words of Dale Carnegie. Learning will not be a chore but fun, powered by curiosity. Sadly today many people feel that they are not authorized to question – that is the realm of experts.

7) Leave time to play. Why shouldn’t life be fun? We all have to study and learn but if that can be done effectively in a short period, why not enjoy the rest of the day? You are likely to get much more involvement and enthusiasm when you can show that it is possible to learn this way. Especially when it is appreciated that each session will not last long.