We don’t need no education (yet)

Traditionally, silence on these here walls has indicated manic overwork and terminal familial neglect. Perhaps you’ve been worried for me, these last five days…

Worry not! For bookandbed has been happily productive and productively happy. We’ve not been reading, oh dear me, no we haven’t read anything in an age. Eek. But, we’ve spent time together playing and laughing and it’s been fantastic – if you leave aside the fact I have spent way too much time seeking out Tinkerbell and Angel, our Happyland fairies from Toadstool House.

Today I told myself, enough already, we really had to reconnect with literacy and so I grabbed our alphabet flashcards (they are nice and fun, honestly. I didn’t strap her to a chair with a flashlight, rendition-style) and settled down to see just how far we’d come in recent months. Except my charming Monkey-face has come quite a long way when it comes to having her needs met and announced “not now, mummy. Next week.” Speechless, I put them away and let her play with Tinkerbell and Angel until it came to the hour when one of them could not be found. Still no book-reading. Bad bookandbed.

Actually, I didnt feel too bad about letting this slide. My lovely dear teacher friend believes very young children should primarily just play and that the most academically successful countries in Europe do not send their kids to school before seven. I thought this was intriguing but still secretly worried I should be hot-housing her if only I were less lazy. Then I read about our beloved government’s plans to test children’s development at 2.

Even I, possibly the world’s most feckless parent, knows this to be preposterous based upon my own laughably small exposure to about 5 children of the same age as my own. Their development has all been wildly different. That’s before we get started on exactly how and who will be measuring them. The last time I looked, health visitors were ripping their hair out at the difficulty of getting toddler mothers to bring their kids to an Incredible Vanishing Child Centre nowhere near you on account of, you know, that small thing called work. I don’t work in the public sector and never have (apart for the 5 minutes I spent struggling with photocopying for a procurement team in the  NHS Hospital where 13 years later my daughter was born) but the last time I looked, wasn’t there some kind of final solution approach being taken to our public services on account of them costing something other than magic beans to implement?  Or will this new monitoring be undertaken by some kindly members of the WI as part of a Little Big Society? I don’t know about you, but when playgroups are disappearing hand over fist and the libraries bequeathed for the benefit of generation upon generation are shutting on a weekly basis because the nation supposedly can’t afford them, I start to hear buzzing in my ears that there will be money available for judging that your kids have been adequately exposed to books (in libraries that may not exist) and meeting other children (in playgroups that have closed.) Unusually for me, I feel reasonably confident in my child’s abilities and don’t really feel an overarching concern that funds already diverting from Healthcare and Literacy and basic wages should make their way to ensure my child’s got a social life and already has an opinion on Dickens. (For your information, Mr Gove, she has. She prefers that I turn it off and stick on Abney and Teal.)

I’m not even sure quite how one rates a toddler’s development – I spend every day with my daughter and my opinion of her development based upon her behaviour and responsiveness at any given minute swings between belief she’s a genius and worry she’s destined for a YOI. Normal parent stuff. Some days she’s so desperate to connect with you, I’m certain she’s damaged and needy (projection, yeah yeah yeah), the next she’s sullen and muter than Marcel Marceau. My father asked on the first day of our recent visit to him “does she speak?” In fact she did this to me the last time our HV “dropped by” (coincidentally a few weeks after the latest head injury terror-dash to A&E.) The HV just shrugged and said “oh, they do this all the time. You can never tell. Are you happy with her development?” In answer to which I made the right noises, she ticked her box and we were all left in peace all of us, I have no doubt, wondering “what was the point of that?”

What do I know, but can this stuff actually, realistically be measured? I don’t think so and worryingly, my knee-jerk response to reading this is echoed by people with actual expertise in this area, not just my own woolly opinion. Dr Richard House is a senior lecturer in psychotherapy at Roehampton University. He thinks: “The idea of setting goals for children of this age is total nonsense. Children’s development is so diverse up to the age of six or seven that it is just not appropriate to set goals and then try to shoe-horn children into them. We are the only country in Europe that sends young children into school at four-years-old. Many, many people believe four is at least two, if not three, years too young for children to be going into the formal institutional school system.”

I’m burning the alphabet cards and setting to work on finding Angel.


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