Why are we hothousing our children?

I’ve noticed that every time I meet up with other mom’s, the conversation inevitably strays towards schools and getting into schools. S is at the age now where I have started considering schools for him and so I’m very open to discussing the different schools in our area and what might be the best fit for him.

However, what I do take issue with is the hothousing that appears to be part and parcel of getting your child into a “good” school. I say “good” because really everyone’s definition of the word is different. But to generalise, parents usually refer to good schools as those that prep your child for the top prep schools, followed by London’s top secondary schools and then on to the best universities this country offers.

Children as young as 3+ are being “assessed” before they are accepted into said good schools. At that age I don’t even think the children care so much where they go but I’ve seen it come as more of a blow to the parent’s whose little cherub didn’t get into their choice of school. In case you haven’t gathered, I’m anti-assessment at such a young age. Although it’s not lost on me the fact that I’m partly anti-assessment, not just because I don’t want my child to be put through that, but I also don’t want to be made to feel like my child is not good enough.

S can sit down and do a 35 piece puzzle on his own but put him in a room full of strangers at this age and I doubt he’ll want to show off his skills. My child shouldn’t be judged for essentially just being a toddler.

I recently went on a school tour and at the end the headmaster pointed out that this school (which takes children at 5+) don’t assess the children anymore but rather they have a “get to know you” session. As my friend B pointed out…”So when your child doesn’t get in, it won’t be because they weren’t up to assessment level, it’ll be because the headmaster didn’t like them in the ‘get to know you’ session?!” I’d like to see how they answer to that one.

The fact is, although many schools have come under scrutiny for assessing such young children and have now changed their terminology, parents are still having their little toddlers prepped for these meetings with the schools. School assessment tutors are very common and growing.

Don’t get me wrong, of course I want my child to do well and will put him in the best school I can in order for him achieve that. However, I believe there needs to be more of an emphasis on the child and not just their ability to read, count or write their name by the time they are 4.

In today’s day and age, what is more important than that grade A is a child’s good social skills, self-esteem and emotional intelligence. Hothousing is a new term which refers to the undue pressure that parents put on their children. Although many schools claim that children should learn through play, their curriculum shows otherwise.

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I want S to thrive academically as well as in a sport he chooses but it’s about finding the line between him wanting to do it and me wanting him to do it. As parents we should always be encouraging our children to be the best that they can but knowing when not to overstep the mark. When parents all around me are enrolling their children in football, rugby, piano and drama, it’s difficult not to question whether I am doing right by S by not putting him in a different class every afternoon but I constantly remind myself that all children are different, as are all parents, and as long as he’s thriving doing what he enjoys, then I’m happy (and more importantly, so is he).

I read a really interesting article about how Finland is changing their teaching methods. You can read it here.

I was really impressed and I think we’d do well in the UK to start adopting this method of learning. Because I can tell you I learnt trigonometry but I don’t remember the last time I ever had to use it. I wish I knew more about the E.U. though!

What’s your views on schooling?

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Do schools teach us to “stay in our boxes”?

I’m aware that the question “Do schools teach us to “stay in our boxes”?” is a highly debateable one. I have studied in several different streams of education and I can tell you that many of the generalisations do exist: From the age of 7-11 I went to an Indian School. It was English medium but the fashion in which we learnt was very much rote learning. I’d spend hours memorising lengthy answers to different questions. I could read Hindi but not understand what I was reading, purely because I was taught how to recognise the alphabets and not actually interpret the words. I then went on to study in India (at an international school) and it was pretty much the same. Mug it all up, parrot fashion. When I was in school in Dublin, things changed. We were taught in a different method. In math, for example, you got points for method and not just the answer. There was a transition year between what is equivalent to GCSEs and A Levels and during this year we were encouraged to participate in different projects, go on field trips and develop a broader view to learning, outside of the classroom. Other generalisations like American schools are creative but not academic, etc. often stand true for many people I know.

Essentially though, I don’t think it matters. Some of the smartest entrepreneurial people I know, didn’t go to university. And some very smart MBA people I know, are out of jobs at the moment. In the end, I don’t think “success” is defined necessarily by how well you did in school, unless your field is very specific (but that’s a post for another day).

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The reason I ask this question today is because of something that happened in the last week. At the start of the week, a friend asked me to vote for her niece who was taking part in a school project in Hong Kong. The project was about preserving the water system in Hong Kong. The school said that the winner would be the project that got the most likes on Facebook. So after looking at what she was proposing, I voted for her and then shared the status on my wall. Other people voted for her from that and shared the status. Anyway, a few days ago, my friend was over and she was on Face Time with her niece. So I asked her how she did and if she won and she told me she was disqualified. Why? Because she’d found an app that gave you free likes for every picture of theirs that you liked and so in the end she got over 2,000 likes (and obviously would have won!) Sounds ingenious doesn’t it? Except the school didn’t accept it and disqualified her.

In today’s cut throat world, thinking outside the box, like she did, would be seen as an asset but at school, she was disqualified. There are many educational institutes who recognise that classroom controlled learning isn’t exactly what children need to survive in the real world and are instead taking their children outside the box. Examples would be the Waldorf Steiner school and the Montessori system. The belief is that children will learn at their own pace and in their own ways and so the classrooms are child led rather than teacher led.

I’m not totally convinced of these schools, only because I do believe that some sort of structure is required in a classroom. But, I also believe traditional schools need to start allowing for more creativity and out of the box thinking. You only have to watch any of the big TV shows (Greys Anatomy, Suits, Scandal, etc.) to see how important out of the box thinking is, even for professionals. The simple fact is…books can only take us so far but it’s the way we think that can change our lives.