In a little under 2 months we find out which school my nearly-four year old son will go to. Will it be:
- the closest and preferred school (but we’re out of catchment),
- the furthest and equally as good (still out of catchment), or
- the next nearest school (in catchment, but has completely different approach to child development and ‘poorer’, but still OK, Ofsted inspection results)?
Since submitting the application (December) we have worried about whether we’re making the right choice of school as, after all, it is very important.
Now, my eldest is a bright three year old – he knows his alphabet, he can count up to 130 without any prompting, he can write his (full) name as well as recognise and write simple words like cat, dog, teeth (!), and he can do simple sums with numbers up to 10. The downside of this that my wife used to be a Key Stage 1 primary school teacher (ages 4-7) so she knows just how advanced he is for his age – she is always saying how children in her year 2 classes often couldn’t do what he already can do.
We are worried he is going to turn up to school in September and have nothing to do. If he already knows his numbers and alphabet how will the school adapt so he still has something to do and not get left alone or bored, rather than him adapt to fit their programme?
These questions (and not just a little bit of panic) are just the tip of the iceberg – we are fully aware of how important the right school and educational background is in this day and age (admission – it may not be this important when he reaches school-leaving age in 2017, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon). This is why the video from Sugata Mitra at TED last month and this article and book really caught my attention: Free to Learn (when your child says, “Go to hell!”).
According to Sugata the education system is “broken”, and the example used in the ‘Free to Learn’ article is what I fear for both my boys – that school just won’t capture them or their imagination, it won’t live up to their abilities and they’ll lose out. It won’t be because they’re not intelligent or clever or adaptable or capable learners, it’s just that the enforced structured system will not be able to cope with their individual thirst for knowledge and learning needs. I know it wasn’t able to accommodate me when I was at school:
“Children come into the world burning to learn and genetically programmed with extraordinary capacities for learning. They are little learning machines. Within their first four years or so they absorb an unfathomable amount of information and skills without any instruction. They learn to walk, run, jump, and climb. They learn to understand and speak the language of the culture into which they are born, and with that they learn to assert their will, argue, amuse, annoy, befriend, and ask questions. They acquire an incredible amount of knowledge about the physical and social world around them. All of this is driven by their inborn instincts and drives, their innate playfulness and curiosity. Nature does not turn off this enormous desire and capacity to learn when children turn five or six. We turn it off with our coercive system of schooling. ”
[emphasis above is mine]
Do I feel worried about this because I can see so many educators talking about change, and actually changing it? Do I feel this way because I can see an alternative way, but it’s just too far out of reach? Would I change it if I could (and knew what to change it for)? Yes, definitely, but to what?
The author of ‘Free to Learn’ (Peter Gray) argues that
“… children’s minds and their natural instincts to learn were shaped when humans were living as hunter-gatherers. In hunter-gatherer societies children were left to play freely – and over time they absorbed the practical skills they needed to survive by watching their elders, and developed social skills by having to negotiate with other children while playing. The counter-cultural movement known as “unschooling” is growing as more and more parents and teachers are coming to realize that anxiety and competition in the classroom inhibit learning; rather, self-chosen and self-directed play are what engage the mind as effective learning tools. As Gray argues, education and learning should call upon the core aspects of our human nature – curiosity, playfulness, and sociability – instead of inhibiting them.” (From Amazon UK)
I know this just sounds like a pushy over protective parent (guilty, and not embarrassed to admit it) but they deserve the best, but how do you know what is best at that age, and how it will affect their development and/or future? Fingers crossed we’ve made the right choice.
- ‘Free to Learn’ is available online on Amazon (and probably on other retail websites too).