Parents receive very little good advice on how to educate their young children. There is an almost unquestioned assumption that children should go to nursery school and from there to full-time primary school and from there to secondary school and, if possible, from there to university – in the assumption that after university the child will be able to find a well-paid job.
Nowhere in this process is there any recognition of the fact that a child’s overriding requirement is that they feel loved – ideally by the whole community that they are part of, but at least by the people who are looking after them from one day to the next.
When education takes a child away from their home – where there is at least a chance that there may be people who love them – on a regular basis,and puts them into a situation where they are being looked after by people who are overworked and under pressure, and who have no long-term commitment to the children in their care, there is no possibility that the result will be anything other than disastrous. Too much early schooling can harm a child’s development psychologically, emotionally and physically, and therefore, on top of everything else, also has a detrimental effect upon their education.
When children spend their days in a loving environment, on the other hand, they do not only gain the benefit of being able to enjoy their childhood, but they are also able to learn more and to learn faster: in a normal situation, a young child’s whole waking day is made up of useful activity, and their desire to learn and to understand the world around them propels them from one subject to the next with remorseless intensity. This means that they can come to terms with all the various aspects of their environment at their own pace and in their own time and that they develop in a balanced way.
But when a child is made to spend too much time in a school-type environment, the situation is radically different. They have to learn subjects such as reading and writing, not when it is appropriate for them, but when it fits into the school curriculum. A school can never be flexible enough to meet the real needs of each individual child, and the frustration and boredom that children inevitably experience at school has a negative impact upon their ability to learn.
These points are simply a matter of common sense – more or less everyone knows that a young child will learn better when they are happy, and that they will be happy when they are with people who love them.
In the modern world, this means that parents and close relatives are, in fact, the most appropriate teachers for young children. In traditional societies, everyone in the village would have a role to play, because everyone in the village would care for all the children in the village, and would want them all to grow up to take their place in village life. Nowhere is there a place for a professional teacher, who is looking after children purely for money, and who has no personal, independent interest in their well being.
This simple truth is not acknowledged in our society, and instead of help being given to families and communities so that they can care for and teach their own children, more and more money is poured into the school system, even though it is blatantly not working.
There is no prospect of those in charge voluntarily changing this policy, and there seems to be little prospect of those parents who have already committed their children to the system now deciding to change course, which means that that parents of today’s young children have to be prepared to take matters into their own hands if they want their children to receive an education appropriate to the times.
0 to 3-Year-Olds
It is from the age from birth to three years old that human beings have the most to learn. Until recently, children of this age were not included in the education system, and this helped to significantly reduce the overall effect that schooling had on their lives. However, the trend over the past twenty years has been for more and more and more children to be put into some form of nursery school or child care arrangement from a younger and younger age.
The reason for this is partly due to the financial pressures placed on parents requiring them to go to work; but there is also an element of declining levels of child care from one generation to the next. Young parents do not feel that they received the level of care that they needed when they were little, and are therefore reluctant to provide it to their own children. There are educational theorists who suggest that there are benefits to be gained from going to nursery school, but it is striking that these arguments are only ever put forward by people who have an economic incentive to do so; they defy common sense and should be ignored.
Babies and toddlers need to be with their families, and with people who have a long-term interest in the development. This is important not only for the baby, but also for the carer. It allows a parent to develop an understanding of what their child needs, and how they learn. Once a parent has helped a child to learn to walk, and to talk, and to discover all the wonders of everyday life, they are not going to worry about whether or not they have the capability to learn to read, or write, or acquire the skills necessary for adult life. This is something that fathers in particular need to take into consideration. Long before it became customary for both parents to go out to work, most fathers were out of the home, away from their children, for most of the time, and as a result had no idea of what their children were doing and of what they were capable. As a result, it is often fathers who are most keen for their children to go to school, and who are most fearful of what will happen if their children do not go to school.
3 to 4-Year-Olds
Nowadays, even children who are looked after at home when they are babies do go to nursery school when they are about three or four years old. Taken in conjunction with childminders, crèches and other childcare arrangements, nursery schools mark the beginning of confusion for many children.
It is beneficial for children to interact with lots of different people, but only when these people are part of a community that has the interests of its children at its heart.
Being cared for by a range of different adults ceases to be beneficial for a child when the adults do not know each other and hardly know the child’s parents. Even in nursery schools, the primary duty of staff is to their employer, not to the children in their care, which means that staff will follow the agenda laid down by the company they work for, and, unlike parents and relatives, will not adapt to suit the agenda of the children.
Many children of this age start to experience a conflict between their own desire to learn and their teachers’ desire to make them do certain things at certain times. Once a child’s spontaneity is curtailed, they start to spend hours each day doing very little at all – a very bad habit to develop at a young age.
5 to 11-Year-Olds
Full-time schooling starts when children are between five and seven years old, varying slightly from country to country. This is far too young: children of this age are not old enough to be able to stand up to the teacher and keep control of what they learn, and when they learn it.
In school, success and failure is assessed according to the criteria set down by the school, not by the children attending the school. Every rational child dislikes school, but for some reason, which is difficult to understand, the people running the schools do not see this as a problem. Instead they adopt an ever more rigid and uncompromising towards the children in their care and in most countries they now have a fixed curriculum, targets for children’s educational achievements, and league tables which compare one school with another, as though the personalities of the children who attend them are of no significance.
Not surprisingly, children do not retain their natural enthusiasm for learning in this atmosphere, and the eleven-year-olds who emerge from the primary school system are not the same people as the five-year-olds who entered it six years earlier. As adults, we tend to think that the changes that we see taking place in our children are an inevitable part of growing up, but it is not realistic to suppose that the deadening influence of school does not have a significant effect upon a child’s development.
This is the first big challenge faced by parents of young children – how to help their children gain a primary education without having their lives blighted by an uncaring educational system.