It’s the time of year when parents across the country collectively exhale and reflect on a busy summer. For some it has been a summer filled with fun, laughter and adventures. For others it’s been a stressful time, trying to juggle childcare and work and never quite pleasing everyone or indeed anyone.
I find myself in the former group and I felt somewhat deflated after taking my children to their respective classes. One of them approached with enthusiasm and the other one was quite the opposite! Our summer has been filled with very little structure; we spent time together in nature, had holidays with family and probably spent less time reading and writing than school would have liked. However, I reckon that my children have had an ‘education’ in a variety of other ways which has led to much exploring and interesting discussions. I have loved having the time and enthusiasm to be engrossed with them as they discover a whole variety of new facts.
Friday afternoon arrived and at school pick up I was met with a downcast 5 year old, emotional and exhausted from her return to the structure of the classroom. I’ve learnt the painful way that with E it’s wise to feed her a snack from a safe distance and allow her time to digest both her food and her day before trying to engage in any kind of rational conversation. As we sat later, chatting about her day her bottom lip began to tremble and my little girl started to cry.
Through her sobs I managed to decipher, ‘Mummy, why do I have to spend so much time sat down at school and why can’t I play with dolls in the home corner anymore?’ A simple question but one I just couldn’t answer. No reply that I could think of felt like a good enough reason. I struggled to help her (or myself) feel better about the situation. All my little girl wanted to do was return to reception class and be able to play with her friends and do her fun ‘busy learning’ tasks in her own time. And at that moment I would have done anything to make that happen for her!
At 5 years old why are we in such a hurry to worry about whether our child is achieving what is expected of them? Who exactly decides what is the right amount of learning and knowledge that needs to be acquired when actually the child is still learning to recognise when their shoes are on the right feet and is struggling to make it through the day without a tired, emotional breakdown?
Our good friends are well aware of my inner conflict when it comes to educating our children! We are blessed with having a wonderful school on our doorstep with dedicated and enthusiastic staff, but they too are governed and judged by a system which puts children into categories from such a young age and throws them into a system of assessment from the first week they start school at 4 years old.
Why are children so put off by the word ‘learning’ once they start school? Why does it fill them with intrigue and excitement until such time as they begin to associate it with structure, fitting in to a system and working towards an ‘expected’ standard?
I don’t have the answers for my daughter right now but what I am sure of is that a ‘one size fits all’ system just can’t be the right solution. As parents we need to take steps to understand what our children need from their education and what we can take control of to ensure they remain engaged and enthusiastic. How do we protect our children when they achieve 1/10 on a spelling test at 7 years old when the list includes words such as ‘subordinate, submarine and misunderstood?’ How can we reassure them that not knowing their number doubles up to 20 at age 5 doesn’t make them any less of a person? How do we keep education relevant and fun when they are so young and inquisitive?
Our children are unique and are all motivated in different ways and all have different representations of the world around them. We know from Motivational Mapping that our son needs freedom to make his own learning choices, needs to understand why he is doing a task and how it links to what he’s interested in and needs to be given time to master and understand how to gain expertise in the subject.. this might sound complicated but if you want him to engage with a maths technique give him some options for learning this technique, tell him why he’s doing it and how it would help him be a professional cricketer (this week’s choice of career based on his belief he can probably do a better job that the current England team) and tell him how he will know once he’s mastered the task..
What I CAN do is reassure my children that as long as they are being kind, supportive and giving everything a go that they are doing great.
I can encourage them to keep making as many mistakes as they can as this is the only way any of us will ever learn anything.
I can remind them to never compare themselves to anyone else and always stay true to themselves.
I can remind them as they get older to give time to the things that matter and to aspire to do something that gives back to humanity and makes a positive impact on those around them.
I can give them the space to make their own mistakes and support them to nurture and identify the talent that lies in them as individuals.
I can remember that my child not reaching any ‘expected’ standard as set by anyone else is not for me to worry about, and that in time the positive way in which my child will make their impact on the world will show up when it’s ready and doesn’t need to conform to anyone else’s timescales, even mine!