Monday, 14 April 2014

Please Don't Tell My Daughter She is Shy

My two year old is lots of things. She’s loud, determined, curious, thoughtful and always changing. She might be loud and excitable one day, and quiet and thoughtful the next. She might be daring and fearless one week, and cautious and unsure the next.

My daughter is a work in progress, she hasn’t yet figured out who she is. She is still trying things out, being shaped by her experiences, and, sadly, listening to what the world tells her she should be.

I try not to use labels to describe my daughter, I want her to figure out who she is, I don’t want her to be who she thinks I expect her to be. I don’t want to tell her she’s messy, or clever or creative. I just want to let her be, and I would really appreciate if the rest of the world would support me in this.

I hate hearing people assign traits to her, I hate listening to people tell her she is quiet, or clever or ‘bossy’. I hate when the same words crop up, reinforcing society’s ideals of who my daughter is, before she has even worked it out herself. I worry that if she is repeatedly told she is something, then that is what she will grow up to be, because she will think it is who she should be.

We went for a walk today, and Ebony wanted to go over and look at some horses. A rider was stood with the horses, and seemed over the moon that a child wanted to look at her horse. The rider went into CBeebies-mode and started talking in a very loud sing-song voice. She was so pantomime that I half expected her horse to actually turn out to be Ant and Dec or the Cheeky Girls.

“Hello! Oh wow, you like horses? Great! Do you want to know my horse’s name?”
Ebony stared at her awkwardly from a distance.
“Oh, are you shy?”
More staring.
“You ARE shy! Little girls aren’t usually shy around horses.”

Because, y’know, it takes testicles to truly understand the motivations behind horse-induced shyness. Of course.

This was the first time Ebony has ever been described as shy. I have never described her as shy, and I have never heard anyone else say it to her. And yet, this afternoon, as we were sitting on the sofa, she turned to me and told me she was shy.

It’s so depressing that an off-the-cuff remark from a strange can resonate with a child, and that it could actually affect how they think about themselves. I don’t want my daughter to classify herself as shy, or even feel that she should be shy. I want her to talk to people, and not talk to people, as she sees fit. And if she grows up with a dislike of painfully over the top friendly patronising horse riders, then that is fine by me. She is going to have to put that already impressive shit-eye to good use at some point.

Firstly, she isn’t shy, but I suppose she’s slightly cautious of strangers. Isn’t that normal? And anyway, if she was shy, rudely pointing it out is hardly going to make her warm to you. And finally, perhaps, she’s not shy, maybe you’re just being weirdly over familiar towards a total stranger.

Next time, I’m definitely going to reply with, “Oh, she’s not shy, I think she just thinks you’re weird.”

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Living Arrows 14/52

We were enjoying some time in the garden yesterday - stroking the rabbits, kicking a ball around, and searching for snails. The lawn is waterlogged, muddy and, I fear, now ruined, because Ebony spent a good 20 minutes running and sliding across the muddiest patch.

As she was running towards the mud, she lost her balance and flew forwards. She landed face down and skidded into the flower bed. I waited for a moment, unsure as to whether this was going to cause tears, only to watch her jump up and squeal, "Muuuud!" before laughing loudly and going in for a second skid.

She was coated from head to toe by the time we went back indoors. I'm so glad she's not afraid of a little bit of mud, all of these outdoor adventures must be paying off.

living arrows

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

We Like to Read: Cautionary Tales for Children

My Granny’s house is filled with old books. The covers are fading, the spines are damaged and the pages are darker at the edges. Last time we went to stay, I was having a look through some of the children’s books upstairs. I have a bit of a thing for old children’s books, and love nothing more than stumbling across a collection of vintage stories in the charity shop (the other day I came across an original Nancy Drew story!).

Last time we visited my Granny, I was looking through the books in the upstairs bedroom when I stumbled across Cautionary Tales for Children. First published in 1907, a 1957 reprint, this book is old. It is falling to pieces, and must be read with great care. On the inside cover, in my dad’s illegible scrawl, his name is smudged in fountain pen. He very kindly said I could have the book, well, he said Ebony could, but she isn’t great at taking care of things, so I’m holding onto it for now.

It currently resides on the mantelpiece in the living room, and Ebony points to it most days and asks me to read it. It’s a collection of funny stories and is lovely to read. It reminds me of Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes, because the rhythm is similar. Cautionary Tales for Children features funny stories about children who misbehaved and lived to regret it. Like the little boy who ran away from his nurse only to be eaten by a lion, and the little girl who burned to death for lying. Jolly book.
I’d never heard of it before, but it turns out it is a very popular and well-known book. I think Ebony likes the rhyming nature of the words, and the fact that it once belonged to her Papa.


Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Please Vote for a New Playground

A few minutes walk from my house there is a community space. A couple of fields, filled with fruit trees, benches and football nets. There is a running track, and a lit path to guide children home from school in the winter months. There is basketball court, and, once upon a time, there was a park.

I don’t know what happened to the park, but I know it needs updating. There are railings with paint peeling off, bordering an expanse of uneven concrete. Weeds grow between the softer pads that once housed park equipment. If you squint, you can make out the foundations of a long departed climbing frame. When we moved here, all that stood at the park was a swing set.

The park is not filled with the sounds of children laughing, nor is it filled with the echoes of footsteps as children run between equipment. Perhaps it was, once, long ago. Ebony has spent a good few hours on that lone, creaking swing. But now, even that has gone, replaced by yet more emptiness.

It is, without doubt, the most depressing park I have ever seen. Hardly deserving of the title playground.

But, there is hope for the children who live in these parts. The community group who planted the fruit trees, and campaigned for the lights to guide children home on dark nights, are now fundraising for a new playground. A real park, with swings and slides and laughter.

The community group have organised events, applied for grants and engaged with councillors and local people to try and get this project off the ground. Local children, the ones who sometimes swing on that one lonely swing, have raised £12,000 through cake sales and other events.

And now, they have the chance of securing another funding bid for the pot. In fact, if they get enough votes, they could be awarded up to £25,000 towards the cost of a brand new playground.

It would be great if you could spare a couple of clicks to vote for them to win.

Please follow this link to vote for Cherry Tree Park project to win the money:

Thank you so much!

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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