Under pressure

School's not always fun.
School’s not always fun.

I recently attended that thing that parents pretend to hate but secretly like and that kids really do hate – parents’ evening. Even though we tell ourselves it doesn’t matter how they are doing as long as they are trying their best, it’s still great to hear your kids are doing well and are a credit to the class. It makes us feel like we’re doing a pretty good job as parents. Or, at least, we’re doing one thing right.

This year is a SATs year for my girls. For those of you who don’t know, SATs are taken at regular intervals during a child’s schooling in England. The first of these are taken when a child is 7 (or nearly 7) and they are supposed to check children are where the Government expects them to be in English, Maths and Science. In reality, SATs mean extra pressure for teachers and their pupils as the results are published and schools are judged on them.

Because of this, my girls’ predicted SATs results were the main topic of conversation at parents’ evening. It was great to hear that both of them are expected to reach the required levels when the tests are taken in May. It was also great to hear that in some or all of the subject areas they are predicted to do better than this. I know I shouldn’t feel like this. I firmly believe that children progress at different rates and, for some, our education system is not necessarily the best way to learn. I don’t think children should be formally tested at 7 years old. I think they should still be learning by play. However, despite all my objections to SATs and the way they force teachers to teach, I was still pleased to hear that my daughters shouldn’t have any problems achieving the required standards; which shows that despite all my lofty ideals, I’m still one of those mothers who gets off on their kids doing well. I’m not proud of this but there you go.

However, I ceased to be one of those mothers and my lofty ideals came back to the forefront when my daughters’ teacher started talking about my girls ‘working very hard’ and ‘pushing themselves’ in order to achieve levels that are expected for older children. She told us the things we could do at home to help  and, I’m ashamed to say, I nodded in stunned silence. I was momentarily silenced as I tried to understand what our education system expects of our children. I thought about it all the way home and some more when I got there before finally coming to the conclusion that it expects 7 year olds to knuckle down and work their socks off to achieve results that make the school and Government look good.

What’s that all about? That’s not doing something that’s best for the children. Yes, they need to focus on English, Maths and Science but not push them to achieve their potential. If they were 16 and taking their GCSEs, I could understand it but they are not. This isn’t about the difference between a ‘C’ grade and an ‘A’. These children are 7. Some of them will still be 6 when they take the tests. And, to me, when 6 & 7 year olds come home from school (where they are all being worked hard) they should just be able to play, watch TV and complain they are bored with absolutely nothing to do (despite being given 101 suggestions). So, although I’m going to help my kids with their schooling and homework, I’m not going to put them under any extra pressure. I’m just going to encourage them to play and enjoy their childhood whilst it lasts.

 

 

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Mixed Messages

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Carrie dug her fingers hard into her temples. She closed her eyes tight, tried to clear her mind and concentrated. Nothing. She bit down on her lip and tired again. It was no good. There was no message coming through.

She ran her hands through her short red hair, pinched her cheeks and tired once more. Still nothing. It was impossible. It didn’t matter how much she cleared her mind or concentrated, Lee’s message was just not getting through.

Carrie jumped to her feet, knocking over the chair she had been sitting on, and began to pace around her small bed-sit. There wasn’t much room and it took all of her concentration not to bump into the dusty old worn sofa or knock over the piles of books and magazines on the floor. This wasn’t working either. Her eyes quickly searched the room looking for something, anything that could help her.

Carrie saw her mobile phone on the floor next to the chair she had just knocked over. Carrie picked it, righted the chair, sat down and placed the phone on her forehead. A smile crept slowly across her face as she closed her eyes once more. She sat perfectly still and held her breath. It was no use. The smile disappeared from her face as she pulled the phone from her forehead and threw it on the floor.

Carrie sighed and then bent down to pick up her phone once more. Her fingers worked quickly across the screen until she found the message from Lee and read it one more time. Maybe this time the message would become clear to her. It didn’t. “R u going on Fri?” it read. What was that supposed to mean? Lee had never asked Carrie if she was going anywhere before so why did he want to know now? What did he want? Did he want to be friends or, maybe, something more? It was no good, Carrie decided. She could sit here for hours and would still be no closer to finding out the truth. Carrie sighed again, tapped out a reply and pressed ‘send.’

Lee dug his fingers hard into his temples. He closed his eyes tight, tried to clear his mind and concentrated. It was no good. He’d read Carrie’s message over and over again but he still didn’t understand it. It was simple and brief in its “Yes” but what did that mean? What did she want? Was she interested in him or not? Lee read the word “Yes” one more time before he placed the phone on his forehead, closed his eyes and concentrated.

I don’t want to be like them!

Necessary for Cheerleading
Necessary for Cheerleading

When I became a parent, I swore I wouldn’t be one of those parents. You know the sort, the ones that become a taxi service and have no life because all of it is spent ferrying their children about from club to club and activity to activity. This pledge was made when my children were babies and was before I had an idea or inkling that they would grow to be one those children. The ones that want to do every club and every activity possible.

To be fair, I have said no to some things they wanted to do but, to be honest, this is because they clash with another club/activity that they already do. You see, it’s hard to say no when they are so enthusiastic about everything. They come home wide-eyed, smiling and in earnest about whatever it is they want to do now and their enthusiasm is infectious. How can I say no? Besides, in the blink of an eye they’ll be teenagers and all that enthusiasm will be replaced by angst, wearing black and locking themselves in their bedrooms so I have to make the most of it whilst it lasts.

So, my daughters’ activity list currently looks like this:

Monday Lunch – School French Club

Tuesday Eve – Gymnastics

Wednesday – After School Football followed by Swimming Lessons

Thursday – After School Cheerleading/Dance Club

Friday Lunch – Loom Band Club (I kid you not).

And it’s embarrassing to admit to others that you’ve become that person you really didn’t want to be so I try to keep it to myself as much as possible. The problem with becoming one of those parents that ferry their children about everywhere is that you run the risk of becoming one of those other types of parents. The ones you really don’t want to be like. The pushy ones.

My daughters were at gymnastics last week and it was badge week. Badge week is where the children attempt to complete a range of gymnastic moves and if they are successful they get a badge and certificate and get to move up to the next level. Now, of course, all the children want to be successful and get the shiny certificate and embroidered badge. Of course they do but, of course, they more often than often don’t. This is when it’s up to parents to be supportive with ‘Never minds’, ‘Maybe next times’ and ‘It doesn’t matters.’ That’s what parents should be saying. What they should not be saying, in any circumstances, is ‘Why didn’t you get one? Go and ask the Coach what you did wrong’ which is what I heard one parent saying to her already sad and deflated daughter.

I stood there with my mouth wide open and did an excellent impression of a fish. I couldn’t believe anybody could be so insensitive. The woman’s daughter was clearly upset that she hadn’t done enough to get the sought after badge in the first place. Goodness knows what her mother’s unthinking and, quite frankly, cruel comments had done to this girl’s confidence. And, to rub salt in the wounds further, she did indeed send the poor child back to ask the Coach, ‘What she had done wrong.”

It was then I realised that no matter how many clubs my daughters go to and no matter how much time I will spend driving them to and fro and just sitting waiting for them to finish, I will never ever become one of those parents.