Every child is an individual

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When I look at my children I see five sons who are individuals; they are all an amalgam of different genetic traits which can easily be attributed to various strands of their father and me but each one has other personality and physical characteristics which are totally their own, perhaps a throwback to a previous generation, perhaps a result of environmental factors. Who knows? I love the fact that they are a close knit band of boys but even more I celebrate the fact that they are their own people. Together they make the most amazing group of boys/men who bring me enormous joy and who, I know, have much to offer the world. In bringing them up I have had a set of family rules within which we broadly operate but I have always tried to embrace their individuality and to recognise that different children require a different approach. I had the child who had to eat frequently or he would lose the plot, I had the child who liked a strict regime, I had the child who liked to have things done for him, I had the child who liked to do everything for himself, I had the child who needed to be in bed at the same time every night, I had the child who needed a flexible bedtime. The variety is what made it a challenge but it also made it an adventure. Children are constantly changing, what works one week won’t necessarily work the next, there is no ‘one fits all’ approach to child rearing and people who refuse to see that do so at their own peril. Just because a child is shy at the age of two doesn’t mean that they will always be shy. Just because a child is restless and ‘boisterous’ at eight doesn’t mean that they will always be that way. Children learn to do things when they are ready and yes, sometimes, they need a nudge in the right direction, but that is all it should be, a gentle toe in the water to see how they react. If they are ready they will get stuck in and surge forward. 

It seems to me that nurseries and schools are, more and more, labelling children as having behavioural and developmental issues far too quickly even though, paradoxically, when there is a genuine educational need they often seem to refuse to acknowledge a parent’s concerns and refuse to press for an educational assessment. I know there are constant news stories about how many children are still not toilet trained at secondary school and how children are out of control but do we really know the true extent of this problem? And do we truly understand why this problem exists? is it because discipline is too lax or is because discipline is too rigidly enforced? Is the problem so great that we need to assess two and three year olds and move away from child-centred learning. There is a vast difference in expecting a fourteen year old to be able to sit still and concentrate for an hour and asking the same thing of a three year old. What is happening to our children’s childhoods?

I hated the first primary school I attended. My mother had chosen it when we moved to the area as it had a good reputation and was linked to the Church that we attended. I cried every single morning going into school and almost had to be dragged into the building; my parents were concerned but thought my distress was perhaps due to the fact that I was generally a clingy child. I hated that school; I hated the strict nonsensical rules, I hated being forced to eat food I didn’t like at lunchtimes; I hated how sarcastic the teachers were and how they openly favoured some children over others; I hated the way I was made to start learning to read from the prescribed reading scheme even though I already could read;  I hated the way we were constantly being told to ‘sit up’, to ’be quiet’, to ‘try harder’. My salvation came in the form of a severe dose of whooping cough which led to an absence from school of several months. My parents saw such a change in my personality that they decided to move me to a different school. I blossomed; this was a school that celebrated the individual. It was chaotic, filled with laughter, had very few rules and yet operated smoothly and efficiently. The Headteacher was the most inspirational man one could ever hope to meet (I still find myself retelling many of his stories to my own children), the teachers were happy, the pupils were happy, every one was valued for who they were and academically the school became the top performing school in the area; not through selective admissions, not through pressure, but by nurturing the individual child. My mother did a small stretch of supply teaching there and couldn’t get over how relaxed it all was but how it worked so fantastically well.  My father, who worked in Social Services, always tried to place foster children at the school as it would always do everything possible to integrate children from difficult backgrounds. A boy in my class started to go blind at the age of nine and the school bent over backwards to make it possible for his disabled mother to keep him at the school until it was time for him to start secondary education. I dread to think what would have happened to me had I stayed on at my first school; I certainly wouldn’t be where I am now.

Every day I become aware of yet another child who seems to have been unfairly treated by the education system. Flimsy excuses are given to explain why a child (with a known learning disorder) can no longer attend a particular school, parents are told their young child is hyperactive simply because he talks to another child during a writing exercise, parents are dragged into nursery to be told their three year old child is autistic without any previous warnings or concerns being expressed, parents are told that their school can no longer cope with their disabled child despite the fact that it has successfully done so over the course of the previous four years and the only thing that has changed is senior management. 

Why do we have this situation. Is it all about league tables? Is it lack of training? Is it a change in the make up of educators? Is it a by-product of constant new government initiatives? Is it a lack of funding or mismanagement of available funds? Is it a combination of all these things? Is it a case of people just speaking out more about their experiences? I honestly don’t know. All I know is that somehow we need to save the current generation of children. We need to give them back their childhoods, let them play, let them find themselves in their own sweet time. 

Education isn’t just about exams and grades. It isn’t just about preparing children for the workforce. We need to equip children for life. As

Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner maintained, education needs to include the cultivation of the moral, emotional, physical, psychological and spiritual dimensions of the child. It means looking at the whole child, not simply a narrow range of skills. In the past children were part of extended families and village communities which would bestow on them all manner of life’s experiences. Children learned how to cook, how to chop firewood, how to build a fire, how to navigate, how to raise animals before they started formal learning. At this stage, schools could concentrate on a more narrow range of activities. But as our community has become narrower and families have become more fragmented we need to look at schools to ‘close the gap’. Let’s forget about formally teaching young children to read and write and instead focus on the ‘softer’ activities: painting, dressing up, making dens, playing in sand, water, mud. Let them learn how to co-operate, how to take turns, how to co-exist with children and adults who may not be the same as them. Let them learn who they are and to respect what others are. Let them learn to be resilient, to be able to cope in the whole world, not just within the narrow confines of a workplace. Let our children be children. Let them learn as children learn best, through play, through observation, through the natural stimulus of the wonderful world in which we live. Let them learn to love learning and the learning will never stop.

 

17 thoughts on “Every child is an individual

  1. Wow, 5 boys! I have two and absolutely love them, can see why you are happy with your five! We are just about to start looking into schools, our eldest will start in September next year, and it’s one thing that I’m worried about more than anything else we’ve had to do so far. It really can have long lasting effects if you get it wrong… Well done for managing it so well.

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  2. Gosh yes, I find all this very hard. It is proven time and time again that children in other European countries who start the more formal parts of education later do better so I find it hard to understand the pressure on the youngsters. One of my 6 year old twins really struggles with reading and she comes home with spellings she has no chance of achieving, so we try a little and then I stop, as i refuse for it to be no fun for her. It has just been SATS time and thankfully they let her leave a couple of the tests as she was just not ready for them. Mich x

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    • That’s a good point about the later start in formal teaching in other European countries. I absolutely agree with the approach you’re taking with your daughter. My youngest showed all the signs of being dyslexic like my middle child so rather than battling over a reading book with him each day we would just snuggle up together and I would read him long stories. Once he was ready to give it a go himself (much later than his peers) he made rapid progress and overtook many of them. This was simply because reading still seemed fun, the pressure had been taken away.Thanks Mich.

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  3. I’m a nursery nurse and the reason I love working in the nursery I work at is children come first. Everything is child led and it shouldn’t be any other way really. I work with 2-3 and if those kids want outside play then outside it is. If they want story time then that’s what we do. We record everything they do in photos so when the parents come for parents morning, there are no ticks, crosses, words they don’t understand, just photos of there children having a great time. Popping over from http://www.mummy2monkeys.co.uk #LAB

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    • That sounds like the pre-school my third and fourth children went to. On the surface it seemed a little chaotic but it was manned by a wonderful group of enthusiastic, committed helpers who loved children. As a result the children behaved well and had a ball. My youngest child went to one which was manned by some quite dour women, the only saving grace was the fact that the day he went involved a trip to the local reception class at the village school where everyone was fantastic.
      Thanks Michelle, glad to hear from you.

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  4. Thankfully both the day nursery and nursery school that N goes to are very much focus on helping the child develop through predominantly child led guidance. The day nursery gives N pretty much total outdoor play (weather dependent) which he loves through their free flow…everyone else goes home taking artwork, I get cut up bits of paper and sand in pockets! Yes they have planning written on the walls for each child, but that’s because Ofsted expect that for them to keep their good rating, and they actually talk to the parents about their want for child led play. They also have lots of external people come in to show the children things as well as ‘lessons’ which many of the children like to participate in…sports, french, drama and music – but from what I can tell, it’s mostly through telling stories and making shapes and movements to understand their bodies, and then hearing different languages. The nursery school is more indoors based due to their current location, but what loves is the role play there – lots of dressing up, and talking about where they and their family fit into the world and environment.

    I’m a great believer in a well rounded education. Luckily N’s quite good at listening when told to focus (I think thanks to swimming lessons and having to listen for the safety aspect), but I’d definitely hate for him to have targets now.

    For schools, I think most need to work on catering for the individual child’s needs. This is always going to be the hard thing for any teacher, especially where you’re unable to divide them up into learning abilities. It’s not a recent phenomenon – even back 30 years ago when I was at primary school, although we had maths groups/worked on different books for arithmatic within our class, the people at the top who got through their week’s work by Monday, didn’t really get much other focus as the teachers were focusing on those who needed more help. I used to spend my weeks reading, or clearing up the paint trolley. I don’t know the answer (yes maybe getting rid of league tables would help, it would definitely remove many of the issues with oversubscribed schools and children not getting places so much), but it’s so essential that schools are aware of what works for different children.

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    • You seem to have found some lovely places for N to attend. I totally agree that it’s not a new phenomenon; when I was a preschooler and my mother was thinking of doing some supply teaching she visited all the playgroups and nurseries in the area and was so unimpressed and adamant that she wouldn’t send me to any of them that she started her own up!
      Some schools do an amazing job at looking at the individual child and teachers bend over backwards to help the child and the parents. Why can some do it but not others? In an age when the numbers of children with special educational needs seems to be increasing there must be more help for schools to give the appropriate support. Thank you Emma for your thoughtful and insightful comment.

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  5. Wow, 5 boys? that’s incredible! I loved this post…I actually went to a Waldorf school and got to experience the wonderful curriculum that has stayed with me to this day. Even now, I work at a company that makes natural remedies based on Rudolf Steiner’s teachings and insights. Beautiful to read your story 🙂

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    • Thank you so much for this brilliant link; there are a few friends I will be sharing this with as it is so informative.

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  6. I have HUGE frustrations about the education system (hence homeschooling for 3 years!) – We’ve never fully blogged about our experience but things were VERY wrong in the schools we first had experience of and even now I hear the same thing repeating over and over with other children we know and in the press and it is just not right. We really battled ‘the system’ for a long time and found that sadly and frustratingly schools can pretty much do as they please without being accountable to anyone other than their own governing bodies (often heavily weighted with exisiting parents and teachers without enough ‘independent’ people on the board). I think a lot of it does now come down to targets/ ratings / results and that is not in the children’s interests at all. I think if you find teachers who genuinely care about your child and put your childs needs first, then you are one of the lucky ones as many schools will put their own needs first rather than the childrens.

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    • That’s the thing, it is such a lottery and although some of us are able to challenge the system and fight for our children there are so many people who are destined to fail. It is so sad. So glad that you’ve been able to help your own children so much, I admire that so much.

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  7. I couldn’t agree more, I changed nurseries because of an over zealous worker who liked her tick box too much. I’ll probably be ranting on my (having a rest) mummy blog too in September! 🙂 #labA

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    • Good for you for voting with your feet. It worries me though that so many people don’t have that option and there are many parents who lack the confidence to make a stand. Thank you for visiting!

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  8. I totally agree with you about letting children be children and letting them play. My son has been going to a ‘school’ nursery since he turned three and although they are wonderful and do have lots of wonderful play activities one of his ‘targets’ for the first term was to sit still and listen… He was just three for goodness sake!

    Something really does need to be done… I’m really quite scared for the future of our kids!

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