Monday 7 April 2014

Leave Childhood Alone, Ofsted

Another week, another headache-inducing headline about our education system. This time it’s Ofsted’s Chief Inspector complaining that nurseries aren’t doing enough to prepare our children for school (article here).

Is it just me who is glad that three year olds aren’t being prepared for school? I mean, isn’t that what reception year is for anyway? I believe three year olds should be busy being three year olds. They should be free. To do whatever it is that three year olds do. And the beauty of three year olds is that this varies between three year olds.

I don’t think three years old are built to sit down, shut up and listen to a teacher. Three year olds are curious, inquisitive and adventurous, and they are perfectly capable of being their own teachers. Three year olds are scientists, explorers and expressive artists. They are scholars and academics who learn through play. They can’t spend hours chained to a library desk researching, but they would love nothing more than hours of freedom to have new experiences and find new things to figure out.

It seems that each time a problem is identified, our government is quick to leap in the wrong direction. If children are struggling in the early years of schools, perhaps the answer is to invest more in those years of school. Maybe a better child to teacher ratio is required to make sure all children reach their potential. Maybe we need to find new ways to unlock the potential in these children. Maybe, just maybe, these children aren’t actually ready for school yet. Maybe they haven’t finished exploring, climbing, and having fun. Maybe they’re not ready to start the daily grind of school just yet.

But no, of course, the problem must be that our children are learning too late. If only we could shove dictionaries up our fannies to have them practising for spelling tests in utero. Maybe then we could fight our way to the top of the global education tables.

As a parent currently looking at nurseries, I am instantly put off any nursery who claims to prepare a child for school. I am much more interested in a nursery who develops the whole child, and a nursery who prepares a child for life. Because that’s what we really want, isn’t it? A child equipped with the skills for life, not just for eleven years of conformity at the hands of teachers.

I want to send my daughter to a nursery who will embrace her as an individual, allow her to take the lead, and support her in discovering new experiences. I don’t want to send her to a nursery who will prepare her for years of sitting at a desk.

I have only looked round one nursery so far, but it was amazing. The whole day was filled with free play, with the teacher sitting at a desk doing a structured activity (baking bread on Tuesdays, making soup on Wednesdays, and knitting or another craft on other days). Children were free to join in, or not join in, as they wanted. It was totally up to them. They spent a couple of hours outside each afternoon, whatever the weather, growing vegetables, gardening, climbing trees and exploring. It was really lovely, and had it been closer to home, I would have sent my daughter there in a heartbeat.

I am going to visit another nursery at the end of the month, and I can’t wait. It sounds lovely, the website talks about teaching life skills, being child-led, treating children with respect, and there is no mention of preparing them for school. Childhood should be about play, confidence and independence. It shouldn’t be about exam results or league tables. Life should be about enjoyment.

In response to Ofsted, 235 child education experts came together to pen a letter to the Telegraph about the importance of protecting childhood, you can read it here.

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