My second son is soon to leave primary school and head up the road to the local secondary and I, his ever loving and hopefully not too cotton wool wrapping mother, have to admit to a passing sense of anxiety over how he will fare. I have always felt this way whenever he follows the unsteady footsteps of his brother; where Sam has had someone to hold his hand, A has to find his way alone. My little ship setting singular sail onto an unknown sea.
That said, the local comp is certainly doing what it can to set me (not just me personally, you understand) at my ease. Last weekend they held a ‘parent and child learning event’ which, despite the fact that it was rather long (4 out of your Saturday hours that we haven’t volunteered for is a big commitment for families), and following a late return from a week-long residential visit for him and a Friday night glass (or two) of wine for me and we were a bit tired, I came away from feeling a little reassured.
Once we’d got over the shock of Saturday morning in a school, it was actually quite nice. It was nice to be doing something, just him and me. The thing is, though, that while it was nice, and it was busy, there were significant numbers of parents and children not there, and, as we know so well as teachers, the ones not there are the very people we would like to see in our schools, finding out that we (the teachers) aren’t ogres (and that some of them are seriously young) and that our children will actually be OK.
So I thought about the factors that might mean that people didn’t come. First up: Saturday. It’s a lot to expect from busy families (and tired teachers too, to be honest), so if we’re going to give up a morning, it has to be worthwhile. Maybe 4 hours is a bit long.
Second up: what will we be doing? Now I don’t know about you, but I like to know what’s going on and I like the illusion of choice. I’m a fully grown up adult and I don’t like to be told what to do, especially in my free time. What I do like is messing about doing things with my children, especially 1:1 (and this was something borne out by my April survey), and if schools can help me with that, great!
Third up: now I like writing (you can probably tell), but I didn’t like PE, so I can understand the feelings of people who don’t want to be thrown back into their own classroom insecurities, especially in front of their children, so maybe, just maybe, schools could do a little bit of lateral thinking about the kind of activities they offer for such events in future.
We need to remember that the engagement we are looking for, the one that makes all the difference in the world, is with the child, not with the school, and sometimes (well, quite a lot of the time), relationships between parents and children can get a bit tense and fractured. So we need to offer learning together experiences that allow parents and children to engage in an activity alongside each other, to collaborate. And something that I have learned along my journey with Sam, learning life skills together, with someone else to take the lead and take the pressure off, is a relief, a gift.
Sport immediately springs to mind, but, to be perfectly honest with you, the sporty families are probably already doing that (although the chance to play a simple, fun game that didn’t require a huge amount of skill was enjoyable), so I followed my train of thought and this is where I ended up.
An art project together.
Some sort of crafting – model making, woodwork, metalwork.
Hair braiding (I’m thinking fancy plaits), makeup and nails.
All of these things are activities that can be hard to do with children at home. All of them are the sort of practical activity that both participants might enjoy, and don’t require huge amounts of academic skill from parents.
We know that the moments of transition are key when building relationships between parents, children and schools. Let’s stop forcing families into states of opposition, especially battles over homework. Let’s see if we can’t do a bit of bringing them together.
Let’s take the pressure off, rethink and revamp.