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When I first heard of First News, I thought to myself - what a brilliant idea. I have to admit I've long since given up reading a printed newspaper in favour of BBC and the Belfast telegraph online - but I can certainly see the benefits of getting children interested in reading a weekly paper. I know many adults do not read books and reading the papers means they are at least still reading. Do you ever forget how to read? I really don't know. Test scores here would indicate that children do lose the ability to read as they grow older because our test scores for age 11 are not so bad - but so many 16 year olds can not read. Then again test scores may be inaccurate - I honestly don't know enough to make an informed judgement call on this. But whether you can lose the ability to read or not - children and adults who read regularly will become better readers , and if reading a newspaper gets them to do that - then I'm all for it.
In addition to encouraging literacy, I felt First News might be a wonderful way to encourage an interest in current events in my son, and to include this into our home education curriculum. Being the cheap skate that I am though, i asked for a sample copy which the company was kind enough to provide. They also have a very good trial offer of 3 issues for £1. After this though a full subscription is pretty high at £54.99 per year, but this publication is sent out every week - so you are really only paying £1 per issue which I feel quite fair. After all they have to meet production costs and pay postage from this.
Our first issue featured an article on The Children of Syria. There is a truly desperate looking photograph of a father carrying a girl of perhaps 11 -12. The caption says she is injured. We can not see any injuries, but the look on the man's face is one of desperation. The article itself is fairly brief though. It does call for British intervention in Syria. I simply do not know enough about this conflict to give an intelligent response to this - but I am very cautious about the West just jumping into any conflict in the middle east. It's far to easy to have another Northern Ireland situation where the troops are welcomed with tea and biccies one week and bullets and bombs the next. This article may be upsetting for children, but it does give them a glimpse of what is going on in the world around us. I found it a good topic for discussion - but I would have liked a bit more background info.
Other topics we found interesting were "World Toilet Day" sure to catch the interest of any young child and a very stupid statement by Prince Charles, who claimed to be descended from Vlad the Impaler before attempting a very poor joke in Romania " I do have a stake in the country". The poor man just shouldn't try being comedian any more than I should try being an opera singer. There was also a short piece on a newly discovered whale species and a truly terrifying piece on using drugs and technology to improve humanity - even suggesting that such improvements might become mandatory for certain jobs. I'd have liked this piece better if it mentioned something of the moral issues involved - this made it sound like a good thing - but it certainly provided a topic for discussion.
But for the most part - I'm afraid my son found this very boring. There was a section called home news which gave a quick blurb for different parts of the UK. Belfast had a two sentences on a new scanner for the Royal Victoria Children's Hospital. Surrey and Wales apparently have stocked up on salt and grit for winter weather, and a new walking route has been opened up in Yorkshire. I'm afraid these are not really topics which would interest my child. Some of the international news was quite dull as well. A 9 year old girl is playing American football in a children's league and has a popular U Tube video. The fellow who jumped from space has been fined for a completely unrelated incident - punching a lorry driver a couple of years ago --- ho hum. My son was also not at all interested in a proposal to lower the speed limit on all commercial or residential roads in the UK to 20 miles an hour. I can see the point, but I don't think it is practical and many of our commercial areas are overly congested as it is.
A large percentage of this paper is advertising, because there are partial pages of ads I am only giving a rough count, but I put it at 14 out of 40 pages. Again this is not too unfair - newspapers do the same things. This much paper, printing and postage is expensive, not to mention paying writers, editors etc... But there was also a good bit of fluff in my opinion. A full page devoted to listing the days before Christmas with a tick box for each.
I did decide not to subscribe to this paper. After all £55 will go a long way to providing my children with books over the year, and we can continue to learn about current events online. There is also the issue of the amount of waste involved in this much paper. I probably will continue to check out the first news website from time to time though, where you can read much of the actual news for free. For our purposes though, the BBC website remains the best. I find the BBC Newsround website to have better content and be easier to navigate- and I often choose articles on teh regular BBC site for my son to view as well.
Although this did not suit my family, I can see where this would be a wonderful product for school use - and in fact 1/3 of all UK schools do subscribe. It could play a role in home education as well, as quick ready to use supplement to the curriculum, but feel the money could be better spent elsewhere. As to ordinary families - if you are considering subscribing - the first thing I would do is check to see if your child already receives this in school - if so it would be a waste of money. But even if your child does get this in school - I feel that a good children's magazine would be better value for money for most families. I really don't see this as something many children will pick up and read on their own, and I do feel there are better resources for children to keep up with current events nowadays. Had the articles been really good - I might have decided differently on this, but it just does not seem that the effort has gone into this publication to make children really want to read it. My son gives this 0 stars despite dooyoo not offering this rating. I would give this 3 as it does have some educational content and value. I meet in the middle between 1 ( as 0 isn't really an option) and 3 and give this 2 stars. It isn't terrible by any means - but it could be a lot better.
My suggestion to improve this paper - child labour. I would hire a few school children to offer ideas on what they want to read, and as junior reporters as well. They really need some input from children on what they want - not just adults.