I remember the first time Sam crawled. Not a commando inch across the floor, but a proper crawl, a proper bridge-making, core-strengthening, arm-and-leg-pumping crawl. He was in the bath.
I’d got distracted. Impossible to imagine, I know. I probably got sucked into cleaning the sinks or something, but whatever it was, my attention was drawn away from the rapidly filling bath, and, no doubt much to his infant delight, rather than pour water down the drain, in he went.
Now, I should explain. He’d been moving himself around, creeping and rolling across the floor, to the accompaniment of excited squeals, for some time and I had been encouraging him, by being that most infuriating of parents and placing the most desired of his toys (probably a ball, or the stacking cups he used to like to bang together) just out of reach. So, as I was (am) wont to do, I transferred everything we had been doing on the sitting room carpet to the bath. Beyond his chubby-fingered grasp the plastic teapot did go.
And he crawled.
Astonishingly, he had realised that if he snaked across the surface of the bath he would drown, so he didn’t. And once he figured crawling out, once he got the hang of it, and realised how much quicker and more efficient it was to do than collecting up all the dust and bits of things from the floor by going along belly-first, he was away. Into everything. Over everything. It was a joy.
It wasn’t as if I hadn’t been attempting to get him to do it for the best part of two years. The physio had shown me how to hold him. How to exert a bit of pressure on his back foot to help him get the idea, but nothing. It was almost as if, in his slack-limbed way, he was resisting me, and my efforts (he most likely was).
And crawling he stayed, for the next year or so.
And you know what? I was happy for him to do so. Yes, as someone who was expecting their second child, I was keen for him to walk, so that I didn’t keep having to pick him up and attempt to fit him on a hip that didn’t exist any more. And bending in the middle. I was quite keen not to have to do too much more of that. But what I had, was a comment, and a leaflet, in the back of my mind. A comment from the physio, a lovely lady who always wore scarves and taught me the song about the frogs, that crawling, for the way it built up core strength, coordination and an understanding of the world around him, was a necessary and important stage.
That’s the thing about learning. It’s full of developmental stages. Everywhere you look, there they are. Language and communication. Maths and cognitive understanding. Reading and writing. Physical development, like walking, running and jumping. And in order to move onto the next step, as it were, you need to have experienced the stage before – and some children need to stay at that stage for a long time, longer than you might think, just to be sure that the foundations are solid.
So, I had to contain my desire to teach him to walk. I had to delay the delights of the babyshoe store (I still have them, the gorgeous little boots I bought him, to support those flexi-ankles), I accepted that, in order for him to build up the strength to succeed at walking up mountains or riding bikes, balancing upon walls without falling off, he couldn’t, and shouldn’t be rushed.
Now, this week, we’ve been all het up about the concept of children re-sitting Year 6 end of Key Stage tests, as I they are public exams in a pass or fail situation, and I think about Sam crawling around in the bath, bubbles up to his chest and squeals of delight. Solid foundations are what we do at primary; it is, after all, our core purpose, but what we need to discuss, and what seems to concern us, and me, both as a parent and a teacher in this stage, are two things:
- Are we really being developmentally appropriate for ten and eleven year old children?
- Are we really saying that those children, the ones who don’t make the arbitrary grade, are failures, when in reality, they are at a different developmental stage and maybe, for them, it is entirely appropriate and important that they stay where they are for a little while longer?
There is truth to the advice not to run before you can walk.