Whose needs are schools there to serve?

April 23, 2013

Student WritingMr Gove really has out-done himself this time. Longer school hours and shorter school holidays? Oh please. 

Where’s the evidence Mr Gove? Where? Show me a single piece of evidence or research that suggests that such a measure would improve academic performance. Vague references to East Asian countries have already been proven to be nonsense

I’ve already read several articles attacking Gove and his crazy notions in no uncertain terms. But, as I feared, there had to be some short-sighted and self-centred people who’d agree with him, because, well, quite simply, it would mean a reduction in their childcare costs and be nice and convenient. Forget that school’s purpose is supposed to be to provide education, not free childcare. 

In a lame attempt to think of someone other than herself, The Observer’s Stephanie Merritt concedes,

“…any serious attempt to align school hours with working hours would need to be carefully negotiated so that the burden of longer days does not fall exclusively on teachers.”

Gosh, that’s big of you, but don’t worry, the burden will not fall exclusively on teachers; it will also fall rather heavily on children. Yes, children. You know, those small, developing beings that make up 20% of the population. Maybe we need to stop for just a minute to think about their needs. 

But if you want to talk about changing things that were put in place a long time ago, that exist for historical reasons which are no longer relevant, let’s look at the school starting age in the UK. Put in place in 1870 (!), such an early starting age was based not on children’s educational or developmental needs, but on the needs of employers who wanted a correspondingly early leaving age. But I’m guessing Mr Gove has no plans to ‘update’ this one. I’m guessing Ms Merritt wouldn’t welcome such a move either. 

So 143 years on, we’re still basing decisions that profoundly affect our children’s lives, solely on the convenience to our workforce and economy. Even if there were any evidence regarding the impact of such a move on academic achievement, this, whilst important, is not the only thing to consider. What about social and emotional development? What about the long term impact of such a childhood as Gove envisages? Ms Merritt talks about how children are no longer playing out over the holidays and are spending their time in front of screens instead. So they might as well be in school, she argues. Perhaps we need to be doing something about this, instead of simply accepting that this is how things are now. Because is this really the world we want for our children? 

Let’s talk about making changes that take steps to give our children back their freedom, not further deprive them of their childhoods.

My child’s mysterious private life

March 7, 2012

My child now spends over 32 hours a week in school. I think that’s a lot of hours. Already, I’m having to work hard to connect with him and make our precious few hours between pick-up time and bedtime as meaningful as possible whilst at the same time attending to all his basic needs. But another thing that strikes me is that I have very little idea what he gets up to during these 32 hours he spends away from me every week.  And he simply won’t tell me. He claims to have amnesia on the subject.

Puzzled and slightly concerned by this, I spoke to several other parents in the playground and most (but, interestingly, not all) reported a similar phenomenon.

It seems my child sees his home and school life as two separate worlds, and wishes to keep them separate. He won’t even join me in writing or drawing in his “Home/School Communication book” – a book the school have provided us with in which we can communicate information about our child, their interests, what they have been doing at home etc.

However, not happy with being shut out entirely from this percentage of my child’s life, and wishing to ensure he has a means to express anything that might be bothering him, I have found various ways to get small amounts of information out of him.  Here’s some of them:

Play with him.

It’s amazing what we can learn about our children and about what is going on in their heads by just playing with them. I find ‘let’s pretend’ games best for this. “Let’s play schools” can lead to all sorts of information being revealed whilst we act out some of the daily routines, and some of the events of that day – incidents that occurred in the playground that he may need to work through, things he may have learnt or heard or seen that he needs to explore some more, to ask more questions about, to get reassurance.  Children really do express themselves through play, and joining him in this means I’m joining him in his world. What better way to find out more about this world?

Create a special ‘connection time’.

Choose a time and make it into a ritual. When I have my child all tucked up in bed, it’s dark, I’m cuddling him, we’re feeling close, and there are no distractions, I often take this opportunity to ask him what was the best and worst thing that happened today. He doesn’t always tell me, but often he does. Interestingly, he’ll often tell me the worst thing but not the best thing. I guess the worst thing may be bothering him, he needs to get it off his chest, or seek reassurance. Sometimes he wants to whisper it in my ear, almost as if he’s fearful of something.

Talking teddies.

Sometimes I find if we turn things into a game my child’s more willing to open up. So I’ll pick up a teddy or other soft animal toy and make it talk and ask him questions.  It’s amazing what he’ll tell teddy but not me directly. Sometimes he initiates this himself, handing me a soft toy and saying ‘Make him talk’, then I know there’s something he needs to tell me!

In their book, “How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk”, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish warn that bombarding a child with questions as soon as he gets home isn’t the best approach. Just letting him know you’re glad to see him is better. Talk can come later when you’re reconnected.

“Too many questions can be experienced as an invasion of one’s private life. Children will talk about what they want to talk about when they want to talk about it.”

They also give advice on how to listen and respond when a child does start talking to you.  The golden rules include listening with full attention, validating feelings, not trying to fix things, and not making judgements. A child will be more inclined to tell their parent about a problem, or about something that went wrong for them that day if they know they’re not going to get judged and blamed. Usually children just want someone to listen, and acknowledge their feelings.

I know I must accept my child’s growing independence, but at the same time I know I must remain emotionally available for him. Staying connected with him and having some idea of what’s going on in his world will help me to do this.