Sue Atkins Podcast 12.04.2021
I really enjoyed my interview with Parenting Expert Sue Atkins and had so much to say. I am posting the full script of the interview with more exclusive details of my plans, hopes and dreams for Pixie Van Dimple and her adventures! Who knows where it will all lead – hang on for an exhilarating ride!!
- Tell us about your journey and your career – what has led you to write your helpful book?
Hi Sue Hi Everyone – just to say thank you to Sue for inviting me to talk about my books – this is a fantastic platform particularly for us lesser known authors to get word out about our books which we hope will entertain and raise awareness at the same time! . I have been living in Twickenham with my partner and 2 daughters, who are 13 and 15 now, for some years having grown up in Lincolnshire in a more rural setting, in a very small town called Spalding, land of the Tulips! Known as South Holland due to its flat landscape and tulip fields which covered most of the surrounding areas back then – it was stunning – it still is very agricultural and you will find a lot of your vegetables come from the fields of Lincolnshire! My family, mum and my brother and sister and their families still live there.
I first moved to South East London and over the years migrated to the lovely leafy suburbs of South West London! I work as an administrator in a special needs school for students with speech and language difficulties, which only opened in September 2019! The whole experience in getting the school up and running had been a valuable, unique experience, with many challenges along the way, but ultimately rewarding. The lockdowns and restrictions have been especially testing for all educators, delivering classes in school, planning online lessons for homeschooling and providing support to parents and students. Over the years I have worked in various administrative roles in private companies, including Cable & Wireless, the telecoms company, which had a lot of business in the Caribbean. I was lucky enough to visit to set up Fraud Prevention training workshops in Barbados and Antigua but did get caught up in a hurricane and literally nearly drowned in the middle of the night whilst in the Antigua Sandals resort!!
I have worked in local authority and in education, from nursery, when my girls were babies the Early years, Primary (ages 4-11), Secondary (11- 18) through to University in the Drama School at St Marys! here in Twickenham where I met some lovely actors and courses covered movement and voice classes and musical theatre!
I love art, drawing and being creative and have an Etsy shop online selling my greeting cards under the name LynnCarolDesigns which is just taking off. I also love reading and writing and cycling, keeping fit and healthy when we can despite the national restrictions. We have 2 rabbits called Poppy and Pippy – Pippy is now nearly 9 years old – the greeting cards were inspired by the rabbits and are mostly rabbit themed for those who love bunnies! We all love animals and would dearly love a dog when the time is right …
2, Tell us how Pixie Van Dimple came about!
Well, I was compelled shortly after my father died, to write a funny story for children called Pixie Van Dimple and the Wrong Kind of Wind, about sugar consumption and the ensuing emissions!!! It is still a work in progress and may well appear in a forthcoming blog! So if you are curious, you will find out what that is about!!
Pixie Van Dimple and the Wrong Kind of Artificial Intelligence came next and the title was obviously seen as more striking given our current technological advancements by the publisher!
The name Pixie Van Dimple came to me as a fun name but also alludes to the fact that my siblings (brother and sister who are twins) and I all have dimples and many people would remark on them when we were children! Much to our embarrassment! The title is a warning – a definite reference to something not quite right! as in very Wrong! and ‘Artificial Intelligence’ is a buzzword in tech which as an emerging technology is here to stay, as part of the Digitalisation revolution taking place right now. We hear a lot about Machine Learning and AI, Augmented Reality and Ethics – who knows where it will take us for the greater ‘good’ or ‘bad’. There is always a flipside to technology – the tip is to know what we are dealing with and act accordingly! Know the boundaries and keep safe! We need to get children in primary schools to start to embrace the technological changes and developments and be aware, educate themselves and become Masters of Technology, learn Digital Citizenship as many jobs in the future will involve mind-boggling amounts of data so we will need to be familiar and confident with the digital landscape and all the associated risks and where it is heading. There is more extensive research being carried out to investigate the psychological and physical effects of Technology on children and young people which can be used to help develop technology in a positive way going forward. In the meantime the Online Harms Bill (explained very well in Good Housekeeping), should be passed this year and will help to protect us, and particularly, children in terms of regulation. We should though continue to put pressure on ‘Big Tech’ to consider safety when developing technology hardware, software and apps as they need to be held accountable and accept responsibility. Ultmately I would like the character, Pixie Van Dimple to take off on her journey and become a 3D character with opinions, advice and support and I hope to do that very soon by creating a blog for her. She can be created in many media such as gaming, comic strips and memes and children can write their own Pixie Van Dimple stories about their own causes ‘Pixie Van Dimple and the Wrong Kind of……..!
3, Tell us how you think lockdown has affected kids and families?
I think that at the start we were all pretty much in shock as the world around us seemed to shut down in fear of our lives. Confined to our homes or where we found ourselves at the time, cut off from loved ones and navigating through very uncertain times we were all fearful, emotional. frightened, unsure and trapped in some cases in unsuitable or even dangerous situations within the family environment with no space, no gardens to retreat to, we were limited to using outdoor spaces and going about our usual social interactions – in fact we came to believe we could trust no-one! this is so alien to us as social beings and has had a very significant effect on all of us and our wellbeing. And some people lost their only support systems, lifelines, an escape out of their domestic situations – I have found myself concerned more about the vulnerable and children. For children, fear is much greater as emotions are so much more heightened and amplified than for adults as they are developing coping mechanisms and resilience! And there are those who have sadly lost family members and are grieving and unable to connect physically. It is harrowing and has been deeply upsetting – so much to deal with and the impact is huge. There have been many positives with local communities pulling together and all of us making new connections ONLINE where physical distance is not a boundary – and working from home! Of course we are focussing now on recovery, wellbeing and nurturing which are so important as we realise the fallout of the pandemic. There are lots of really helpful and informative books in your Book Club Sue and lots of great advice to overcome hardship!
4, The main message of the book on the face of it essentially is to be aware of the dangers of online safety and too much screen time which all children can relate to.
Reading is hugely beneficial for children from the perspective of developing skills in reading and writing, both at school or at home and is interactive – an activity which can be shared – with parents or guardians, carers, family and friends. Lyrical stories and rhymes can be accompanied by music and can be sung! Check out rappers and poets and songwriters! Children love story books, and nursery rhymes and will read their favourites over and over again! We learn so much from reading both in book form and online, which of course is one of the wonders of the internet. We learn to form opinions, share ideas and learn about life and expectations, read about fantasy and developing ideas, and all manner of information. The written word is a vital part of communication that is a life source to us.
The themes of this book include the adverse effects of screen time and refers to the dangers of online safety – as an educational professional we do extensive training on online safety and child protection which is extremely important – prevention is the key, being vigilant and embedding online safety education into the curriculum so that the children are aware of the risks and keep safe. I wanted this book to be a resource which can be read to children as part of the online safety curriculum embedded in schools and span English and creative writing also. Online safety is a key part of safeguarding. We have a duty of care to safeguard our kids as parents as well as in school. Parents can read the book with their children either together or children can read it independently, and it will hopefully stimulate the discussion we as parents need to have with our children about our online presence and how to behave and stay safe, much like we would advise them to stay safe offline and out in the world! The dangers are wide-ranging and can be horrific – we know there is a dark side and we need to provide protection to our kids. As well as online safety there are also adverse effects of too much screen time including irritability, lack of concentration and lack of sleep, too much stimulation on no downtime.
The motto and message of the book is to be aware of the dangers of online safety in simple terms, know that there is a dark side (such as cyberbullying and cybercrime, predators and grooming) and observe Pixie’s online safety rules for kids! The positives though far outweigh the downsides – the fact that over 7.5 billion people in the world have access to a mobile phone is phenomenal and that means that a lot of children will now have access to education – brilliant! We must ask ourselves though and consider that the more competent and expert children become using tech, the more they are likely to be taking risks online, so again it is important that safety measures are put in place to protect them.
Overall, the reason I was compelled to write the book was to raise awareness amongst children of the many advantages of technological advancement but to ultimately be Masters of the Technology which will be part of their lives in the future and be ahead of the game! Know the risks and be safe! I have very quickly realised that having a real positive impact on children’s lives and their safety and education is immensely rewarding so I will use the books and the platforms available to me to promote these key ideas.
5. How can parents help their kids navigate these choppy waters online?
As a parent to two girls over these recent years – they are still only young at 13 and 15! – it seemed so hard to exercise control! Once a child has a device in their hands they are off! and apps are so intuitive and easy to click on and scroll through – too easy! Don’t forget that children copy adults and if we are always holding a phone in our hands and starting into the middle distance totally immersed then they will do that too! I saw that whilst working in a childrens’ nursery some years ago when toddlers were picking up objects and holding them to their ears talking at them whilst grabbing a bag to go shopping ! I think if you want to research information for online safety then go to the NSPCC website as they are the most trusted source and Peter Wanless dedicated his life to keeping children safe which is where I get the inspiration from for Pixie Van Dimple, plus we do all the safeguarding training in school which includes e-safety and online safety.
The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command known as CEOP provide lots of information through websites such as thinkuknow.com and London Grid For Learning (Lgfl) for all age groups. Natterhub are really good for parents to subscribe to as well as schools and have really fun activity based learning in and out of the classroom. I can also recommend looking at Achieving for Children which is our local borough website for services in the Borough but which has great links to information on online safety and apps and how to navigate privacy and set limits for children etc and what to look out for in terms of social media and gaming issues- great resources for schools and professionals.
I was watching BBC Breakfast recently and saw that there was a now highlighted report on racist abuse online involving Liverpool FC’s captain Jordan Henderson fronting the People not profiles campaign together with Cybersmile. There is pressure on the government (quite rightly) to bring in passports for accounts so they can be verified, and fast track the Online Harms Bill which was shelved last Autumn but should be passed later this year. There needs to be regulation and legislation in place now to make sure there is a system in place to make sure that platforms are held to account for harmful content and individuals held to account for unacceptable online behaviour. I will be keeping up with developments on this as I have said.
My top tips though come from the NSPCC advice about engaging your child in discussions about their online activity.
- reassure them that you’re interested in their life, offline and online. Recognise that they’ll be using the internet to research homework as well talking to their friends.
- ask your child to show you what they enjoy doing online or apps they’re using so you can understand them.
- be positive but also open about anything you’re worried about. You could say “I think this site’s really good” or “I’m a little worried about things I’ve seen here.”
- ask them if they’re worried about anything, and let them know they can come to you.
- ask them about their friends online and how they know they are who they say they are.
- listen for the reasons why your child wants to use apps or site you don’t think are suitable, so you can talk about these together.
- ask your child what they think is okay for children of different ages so they feel involved in the decision making.
This is obviously 6 tips but so very important to convey! Reading Pixie Van Dimple’s book is a fun way to introduce the subject and engage your child in discussion about online ‘dangers’ and also how to empower them to stay safe online. Learning about the risks and gaining knowledge and being masters of technology results in increased resilience and confidence about clicking, making the right choices, enhancing the moral compass, encouraging critical thinking and therefore improving wellbeing. Being adaptable to change and being aware of your environment including the digital environment brings about confidence and the ability to learn.
6. What do you want families to get out of reading one of your books?
I would like the books to be fun more than anything, as well as being a way of getting a more serious message across – as I have talked about, the character is accessible to all children, fallible but ultimately realising the impacts of making the wrong choices and changing direction to champion the right paths and right choices! Talk to your children bout what they DO online, and have a conversation, a continued dialogue. Learn about the subject matter and also learn new vocabulary, talk about rhyming words like we did in school with my pupils, use the books as teaching resources for literacy and in online safety sessions, geography, science, life skills! Multiple uses within the framework of the curriculum! Parents can guide research safely of course on the internet to find out more about the issues (see tips in question 5) and there will be plenty of helpful hints on this platform for parents to find out about keeping their children safe online.
7. Tell us more about how an excerpt of #pixievandimple came to be read by FAB-U-LOUS Craig Revel Horwood?
Well ! I worked as a school administrator for 4 years in a school in Richmond and one of the parents, Emma Wilson, Hi Emma! who is a dancer and was in musical theatre some years ago with non other than Craig Revel Horwood! I kept in touch with Emma, who incidentally is my birthday twin! when I moved on and I happened to suggest to her that I would love Craig to read an excerpt of the book as I love his flamboyant and fun persona and his warm personality – he always makes me smile! Emma contacted him during lockdown last year and she sent him the text – and voila! some time later I was sent the audio! and I was delighted – the story really comes to life! I know how busy Craig is and if he happens to be listening, then I would like to say a very big Thank you! Wonderful!
8. Tell us about Capella House, a new SEN school specialising in speech, language and communications..
I was really lucky to get involved in this ! It is a new school set up to specialise in SALT but is part of a bigger Trust – The Auriga Academy Trust – which is expanding quite rapidly at the moment. Capella’s motto is Hear our voices, see us shine! Every child should be heard and we are here to help nurture individual needs. Some of our students have been diagnosed with autism, ADHD, dyslexia and we put strategies in place to enable learning using therapies and strategies to help them to build up confidence and independence, tremendously rewarding. From the website: Our pupils will access a broad and enriching mainstream curriculum differentiated through bespoke lessons that are delivered in a highly personalised way to connect and fully engage with every learner – teaching staff are dedicated and totally committed to the students as we all are. And they are wonderful, bright, brilliant inspiring students !
From our Head:
Our curriculum is designed to meet the needs of our learners and remains flexible so we can provide bespoke learning opportunities. Our staff bring a wealth of experience and through our academic, social and therapeutic curricula, supporting learning for all. With the support of the Auriga Academy Trust, we can work with colleagues to ensure our learners have access to a wide range of specialists.
We have high expectations of everyone at Capella House School, and we firmly believe that by working together with home and school, we can provide a great education for all our learners. We encourage challenge and reward learners who try something new.
The journey so far has been epic, with planning and opening the school, welcoming the first students (we have small classes and currently have years 7 and 8 in school totalling 20 students) into the secondary centre and helping them settle in A term and a half in of course we entered lockdown! Since the beginning of lockdown a lot of the students have been in school regularly and all of them have shown great strength and determination coming through this which has been really difficult for them. We are so very proud of them and the staff. Setting up the school was no mean feat and took a lot of work and commitment to steer it in the right direction. There is so much to do, planning, curriculum and timetabling, budgeting, administering, setting up and embedding systems, training and more training, IT set up, regulation and statutory requirements to be met – you need to consider all things whilst dealing with the everyday stuff which happens in schools. We will be opening a primary centre up in Twickenham in September which will be of similar size but with an assessment centre in situ so it is all very exciting and great for the Borough as there is a great need for additional facilities. I must say that I have not been happier working with such wonderful creative people, so supportive and kind and talented – great!
9. Tell us about your Etsy creations and cards! – what do you design and where can we find you?
I started the bunny designs back in 2017 too ! must have been a creative rush to the head that year! I wanted the drawings to be simple and identifiable as mine – the rabbit head being an upside down heart and the bunnies all have grey floppy ears! Rather like Poppy – one of our bunnies – we have 2 Poppy and Pippy – Poppy is 6 we think as we adopted her when Pippy’s brother died nearly 4 years ago and Pippy is 9 ! Rabbits are very sociable and like to be part of a pair unless they are not used to it and then can get territorial! We tried bonding Pippy with quite a few female rabbits who did not like sharing ! until we found our gorgeous little Poppy! It was like bunny speed dating! They also need lots of room to hop about and careful looking after! anyway the designs are for all occasions – the latest not yet on Etsy is a bunny wedding! There is a rugby rabbit and a christmas rabbit and a bunny with a cuddly toy rabbit – they can look really cute in small frames for a nursery and I have considered fabric designs and have created stamps too! All sustainably produced of course! All this has taken a bit of a back seat with the books taking over and a full time school job! but I love drawing and creating and my daughters do too – one is doing textiles as GCSE and has produced beautiful artworks and creations.
10. What’s next for you?
Well – I have another book – the second in the series in the adventures of Pixie Van Dimple.. Pixie Van Dimple and the Wrong Kind of Plastic currently in production – coming out later this year! The themes being ocean pollution/plastic pollution and the effects on marine life and also highlight the need for sustainability in all areas. Another huge issue which will affect us, our environment and our future generations for years to come. Something that children are very interested in and eager to talk about.
I have a full on campaign going on on LinkedIn involving plastics, recycling, sustainability, circular economy, supply chain, upcycling, refilling, the environmental impacts, carbon emissions, climate change – across multiple industries including food, fashion, cars (Formula E Race against Climate change), packaging, plastic bottles and containers, sustainable goods and services – sustainability has indeed landed and consumers now wish to know how ethically a product has been made and if the companies producing them consider the impact they have on the environment. Young people are more passionate than ever about this and so we need to keep raising awareness and encouraging innovations in these areas. Embedding more into school curriculums about sustainable growth would benefit future generations, and can be taught through different subjects, geography, maths, sciences, english and art! So important. I actually want to make sure that this happens and am endeavouring to challenge what is actually IN the curriculum that is compulsory and propose that we change it to include more relevant current issues. Issues need to be dealt with at inception ie at the start of an innovative process and we need to adopt a more circular approach to consumption and production using clean energy!
I have developed brilliant relationships with contacts on LinkedIn and am hoping to work with Prevented Ocean Plastics based in the Richmond area – they have been hugely successful in recent months having only been up and running for just over a year! Promoting the recycling of plastics for bottles and packaging they have a partnership with recycled plastics company Bantam Plastics who produce recycled plastics using plastics collected from coastal areas at risk from ocean plastic pollution. The list of partnerships is growing fast but they supply the likes of Waitrose, Lidl, Sainsburys, Farmologie and more chains! They are educators and raise awareness supporting schemes close to their heart and collaborating with other companies forging partnerships – joining the dots to create a truly sustainable future!
I have also been in contact with Seven Clean Seas based in Singapore and who are working so hard in the region to clean up the beaches, collecting plastics and sustain employment for the locals too – their business has grown immensely too. Their mission statement is: Our mission is to preserve the marine environment by ridding the ocean of plastic for good. We exist to clean, conserve, and educate. Our seas and oceans are the most important ecosystem on Earth. We want to help protect all the wonderful life which call them home.
When Pixie’s book comes out I am hoping to dedicate it to these wonderful companies who are striving to make a difference to our futures!
There is much to say on the subject of sustainability – fashion is another polluter – I am loving the work Stephanie Benedetto – Co founder of Queen of Raw – and a sustainability entrepreneur, is doing in the US creating a marketplace to buy and sell unused textiles, keeping them out of landfills and turning pollution into profit. And I have discovered Waterbear Network a streaming service associated with the likes of WWF streaming programmes The first streaming platform dedicated to the future of the planet – watch connect take action! We have signed up to Surfers Against Sewage to contribute to the fantastic work they are doing too, take a look! We have discovered Madekind who produce sustainable cleaning products and the Refill Larder locally where you can refill your essentials using your own containers 7 days a week!
I would like to apply for our school and Trust to become an Eco School maybe next year so our pupils will hopefully be actively working towards that! so much to do!
Pixie can take on more campaigns – Pixie Van Dimple and the Wrong Kind of ……..? and expand into comics, gaming, short stories, mashed up stories such as Little Red Riding Hoodie featuring Pixie Van Dimple – which incidentally is coming soon!!! A film! endless possibilities!
11. Your book Pixie Van Dimple and the Wrong Kind of Artificial Intelligence is available on the Sue Atkins Book Club and all online platforms! Google it and take a look!
12, How do people find you Tell us your website and social media platforms