M has leapt into school with her characteristic optimism and energy, declaring that every day is ‘ten out of ten’, especially when scampi is on the lunch menu. A and I, meanwhile, are gritting our teeth and wondering whether the honeymoon period will end.
On the plus side, M is enjoying being with other children and has done activities we couldn’t easily offer at home, like rugby,samba dancing, and a fantastic session with an author and illustrator. She has also joined the school choir – the main reason she asked to go to school in the first place. But enrichment activities such are outnumbered by the sheer volume of formal learning that takes place for much of the day. Gone are the days of lying on cushions in the lounge devouring library books, now we have ‘Grammar Hammer’, spellings and reading schemes. Instead of running down the street with a tape measure trying to work out how long a diplodocus is, M is writing lists of number sentences in a book. After school one day this week, she reminded me of our dinosaur learning and asked for some more to do; it was brilliant watching her running around the house with a tape measure, inquisitive and hungry to learn.
I’ve taken a long look at myself and questioned if the issue might not be school, but the fact that I have lost a little control of the situation. Certainly there’s an element of the control freak in me somewhere. But I think I can say honestly that this is not the problem. If M was at school, learning in a less formal manner and with more space to breathe, I can only hope I would be extremely grateful that someone was taking care of my child and giving me the opportunity to focus on something else for a few hours each day.
One of the problems, from my point of view, is that the work presents very little challenge. I resent my child spending hours each day ‘learning’ something she already knows. What is the point? This week, we sat together to read the book she had been sent home. It was a reading scheme story – repetitive and leaving little room for the imagination to run wild. These books have a place – they are designed to teach children to read, which is why they are repetitive, to reinforce key words. But M can already read. She learned to read two years ago. Surely her time would be much better spent playing with her sisters or reading a book of her own choice? After over six hours in school, does a six year old really need more ‘work’ to do at home? On a recent visit to her classroom, M showed me the lovely book corner, and I was relieved when a teaching assistant told me they do get time to just read. Not so pleased when she started telling me how packed the school day is and how little time there is these days just for the children to BE. If the staff are saying that, surely it’s time for a rethink.
Chatting to a friend about all this, she sympathised but said that school had been great for her daughter, who had lacked confidence and benefited from the reinforcement of key learning principles. I can see her point, but also have to question whether more confidence might be instilled in our kids if they were not put under pressure to achieve the same targets as every other child their age and pass so many tests.
And so it goes on; I overthink education until I lose sight of what my question was. I’m sure many parents would say ‘Look. M is happy. She’s getting all of her work done. Get over yourself.’ But I’ve seen another side of learning, and I know our schools could offer a better education if we got rid of the standardised testing and revisited the skills our children really need to acquire to succeed in the 21st century.
The best I can take from the situation for now is that M is making some nice friends and keeping busy. There is nothing to be achieved from bursting her bubble and insisting that I know best, because maybe I don’t. If I dig deep down, I understand her need to be around other people: that is my need too. I only wish she could find that social buzz another way, because now I have seen how children can learn more freely, I’m finding it hard to climb back into the box.