The incredibly sad news of Ros Bailey’s illness has prompted in me some timely introspection. After returning to a laden in-tray following a much needed break from work, I’ve found myself reflecting on my own work life balance and the need to live more ‘in the now’. The demise of our washing machine, great timing with three week’s worth of washing to sort, legitimised a dirty washing sculpture which, amoeba-like grew in the bathroom for a week. While using a laundrette brought with it an unexpected feeling of freedom from daily chores. And after temperatures of 40 degrees, the failure of our heating didn’t help ease the transition between holiday and work or school!
In an attempt to inspire my six year old to overcome his temporary ‘fear’ of reading, we’ve been reading together Danny Crates’ inspirational story of triumphing over adversity. Faced as he was with the loss of his right (prominent) arm in a car crash he went on to achieve his dream, and international recognition, as a championship athlete. It is stories like these that give a much needed reminder that life is no dress rehearsal. And this is where children have got it so right. We could learn a lot from children’s ability to live in the now, their immediacy and zest for life. With the lure of a muddy puddle or whatever else takes their fancy, children will typically act and play first and think about the consequences, like the washing later. And I for one am determined to take a leaf out of their book…
‘Batman can’t read, that’s why he has super powers’ announced my six year old fully kitted out as Batman for our easy take on World Book day. He’d just read a book enthusiastically and when I’d suggested that we look at another book together, (using Batman as a foil!), he pointed out the obvious fly in the ointment! In this one sentence he deftly merged the world of super hero make-believe and rational logic. This six year old would make a perfect r ambassador for reading, likening as he does the importance of reading to having superpowers. How true is this and just how much more engaged and switched on might young boys be if reading were re-branded as a super power? With a logic and incite that cuts through to the core of reading targets and campaigns, he rationalises that if you can’t read in this world you’re going to need pretty special superpowers to get by. There’s no sense of Batman being too cool to read, (nor stigma too) but instead a matter of fact acceptance of the importance of reading as part of a child’s armoury of tools for life.
It’s probably worth noting that this same, intelligent, intuitive, engaged and eloquent little boy would by the Government’s own measure ‘Can write a story (or even its more recent reincarnation – a sentence) before the age of six years’, probably have been deemed a failure by the system. Thankfully his enlightenment teacher recognises the value and role played by full-bodied learning and the importance of children, particularly boys, not being disengaged with books by a fixation on targets and milestones. And so with gleaming eyes he bounded to school with Batman cape flowing. I wonder how Batman faired at his first Read Write Inc session today?!
Travelling back from the amazing TACTYC Conference this weekend in York, I arrived at my parents in law’s house in Norfolk, deep in a power cut. Having debated the whole school readiness issue and easily concluded that the vital question is not whether children are ready to learn but what? (Whitebread, D. and Bingham, S. 2011) it was great to see a spontaneous and fun learning and play opportunity evolve. On arrival in the candlelit kitchen the children had hidden in the gloomy shadow of the table, only jumping out with a ‘boo’ when I least expected them. Shrieks of laughter ensued as they played hide and seek in the shadows of granny and grandads house. The arrival of a large specialised vehicle with double cherry picker on an extendable arm was good enough reason for us to decant to the street. There the children sat mesmerised on the dark pavement watching the spectacle unfold. They marvelled as the vehicle legs jacked the crane up and two power line repairmen climbed into the cherrypicker, the manoeuvrability of which caused lots of interest and discussion. They chatted to the ground based electrician, asking probing questions to better understand what was happening. They shared their knowledge of the dangers of electricity and explained to me, aged five and eight years, why the two men would not be electrocuted, (because the crane was insulated). As time edged past 9.30 the children were persuaded to come back in the house for bedtime. Not wishing for the experience to end, but fighting off tiredness my eight year old remembered the pass the parcel present she’d won earlier that day at a party. We rushed in the house to fetch it and she plucked up the courage to ask the two workers from the cherry picker to sign her new autograph book! Back in the house feeling really tired the children quickly succumbed to bed and us adults ate a candlelit tea.
With busy lives and routines it’s so easy to miss the sense of awe and wonder of occasions like these for children. A powercut turned into a magical evening of spooky tea and hide and seek games. The visitors in high vis jackets with their amazing equipment, sparked discussion over hydraulics, vehicles and safety. Returning to the issue of school readiness, moments like this make us realise the importance of changing the emphasis of the debate. Instead of focussing on whether children are ready for school let’s consider instead whether school is ready for them? Opportunities like these clearly won’t be available in schools, but the daily weather, seasons, visitors from the community and so on all give opportunities for children to extend their knowledge and make the links to real life. In doing so they tick several curriculum boxes too! If I was observing that night I would have evidenced elements of personal social and emotional development, communication, problem solving, knowledge and understanding of the world, physical and creative development. Not bad for a spontaneous night in the dark!