Yesterday was our daughter’s parents evening, an event I find quite ridiculously stressful and awkward. I think it’s having to sit waiting on tiny chairs outside of the classroom that makes me feel like a naughty school kid again. Not that I was ever particularly naughty. I was a swot who lived in fear of ever being told off, or getting a question wrong in a test.
My parents never came to my parents’ evenings, unless I begged and badgered them for weeks before. I think it was because they were never worried that I was having any academic problems, which was probably true, but I always interpreted it as them not really caring. I got the impression some kids would do anything to hide the event from their parents, but I just desperately wanted them to come, to me it felt like a massive deal for them to show an interest and for my teachers to say nice things about me. Part of my deeply ingrained need for approval.
My daughter has no such need. She could not care less what people think about her. At the moment we’re having a real issue with getting her to hand in her homework. Each week she does one of the projects from her topic grid, in fact at the moment she’s feeling pretty enthused about things and she’s doing two or three homeworks a week. Every day we try to remind her to hand it in. Sometimes I’ve even sent her into class holding her homework book out and ready to give to her teacher. And every day she forgets. I genuinely think it’s that she feels no need for any praise, for being told if it’s good or correct, for getting recognition. She just enjoyed doing it, and after that she’s just not bothered.
I suggested that to her teacher, who totally agreed. She said that these days she finds it incredibly rare to see a child with the internal motivation, who isn’t interested in praise and rewards. She said that it should stand her in good stead in this age of intense testing and levels and standards to be met, to just not care, but to work because you want to.
I would love to take credit for this. Me and my husband try to follow unconditional parenting, with the concept of no rewards and no punishments, to encourage internal motivation. We really do try. But I really cannot help but reveal my inner people-pleaser and A grade-chaser on a far too frequent basis. I am always checking how she did in her maths test and her spelling test, who the outstanding worker was this week, what comments her teacher wrote in her book when she EVENTUALLY handed it in. I am just unable to put that part of myself behind me. So far my daughter has managed to ignore it, and it hasn’t rubbed off on her at all. I pray that continues because her attitude is so much healthier than mine. I feel completely unable to take the credit and totally believe it’s down to her personality. She has always been in her own head, her own little bubble world of a daydream, and long may that last.
Whilst sat waiting on our tiny chairs, feeling a little sick with anxiety, we were given her school books to look over, and I was frankly stunned by how many work books she has and how much work was in them after just 9 weeks of term. Everybody says that year 1 is a big step up from reception, but there were all these exercises about grammar and Venn diagrams and pages of handwriting. As somebody who believes more in the Scandinavian approach, who would have desperately loved to have homeschooled if it wouldn’t have threatened our sanity and our family wellbeing, who thinks that children should be learning through play, it frankly made me feel really sad to look through. I am so pleased she’s doing well and progressing, but I still can’t quite resolve myself with how our state schools are being conducted these days. I cannot see any need for a five year old to understand most of the stuff on their curriculum, particularly when there is so much fun to be had in the world.
But, despite all of my fears, misgivings and disagreement with the school process, my daughter loves school, loves her teachers, comes out happy every day and has changed unrecognisably in the past year. She had gone from a terrified, unengaged, solitary, uncommunicative little girl, and has totally blossomed. And we all benefit from some time away from her high intensity.
I follow lots of people who home school, me being all hippy and shit. I love reading about all the cool things they do with their kids. At the same time I do kind of find myself resenting the implication that, as conventionally schooling parents, we don’t do the same cool things with our children. We still let our children play, and learn through play when they’re at home. We still follow their interests and passions. When they ask questions we try to help them find the answers and explore things further. They still learn by getting involved in day to day family life, by getting outside in nature, by going on trips and having experiences. I think there can be an implication that if you send your child to school then you have totally abdicated all responsibility for their learning and development, and that you no longer have any impact on this. I find that a pretty patronising idea, but maybe it’s that horrid mummy-guilt just raising its head again, after all my presumptions that we would home school and then not feeling able to take that on. I do think we made the right choice, to send her to school, absolutely, but it can still be hard to let go off those feelings.
Anyway, I won’t bore you with how she’s doing academically, she’s not fussed and I’m trying to take a leaf out of her book, but she’s happy and settled, and even made some really close friends, and I couldn’t be happier.