For some, this autumn may bring about a new chapter in their lives: starting school. And it’s one big world out there, so let’s allow our children to embrace it.
My husband and I have recently had the great pleasure of becoming grandparents and we have both enjoyed spending time with our granddaughter, watching her grow and develop in those first few precious weeks.
It has been moving for both of us to relive those experiences of between 25 and 35 years ago when our own children were born. The family has never felt closer with all of our children playing their part in supporting the new addition. The importance of a close and loving family whether it consists only of the two immediate parents or of a more extended network is abundantly clear. To be born into a home that is both competent and caring is the best start any child can have and the loving attention of the immediate family members is, clearly, the foundation for good emotional and very possibly intellectual health.
The Autumn term is a time of new beginnings for thousands of families. A number of mothers will have entered their children for nurseries or schools in September for the first time and will be thinking of returning to work. Other children will be moving from daycare into nursery and from nursery to reception class beginning to find their way through our education system. Many parents will have reached the end of a demanding process of analysing and comparing the options available to them and, with luck, will be satisfied with the choice they have made.
The first time a mother leaves her child at nursery, school or with a child minder is very likely to be emotionally stressful for her if not for the child. If the preparation has been done thoroughly including brief accompanied visits and a getting-to-know-you period with the carers involved it is very likely that the child will enjoy their first day and be looking forward to more.
We all know the story of the child who went to school on the first morning and reported back at home that he had thoroughly enjoyed it but didn’t think he would want to go again! Despite this almost all children settle very quickly although for some a little more patience and encouragement is required than others.
It is the parents who often find the separation difficult. The reasons are complex. There is bound to be some anxiety about delivering your child into the care of someone else for the first time – in fact it can be just as difficult for some mothers to leave their babies with the grandmothers, until everyone gets used to it. However, embarking on any kind of formal education has different connotations. This is the end of the exclusively home based life and from now on your child will be influenced by others and will learn things about which you know nothing and have experiences which you cannot share. If there is an associated pang in the parents it is the age old protective instinct at work. The truth is this is the beginning of your child’s journey to personal autonomy but it will be many years before any meaningful independence is achieved.
The really exciting thing is that your child will now have the opportunity to meet a wider world than the one that you offer within your own four walls. Depending on where you live your child will have the chance to meet children from different social and ethnic backgrounds and to be cared for by a range of new adults. It is the time when your child understands that the world outside home is interesting and reliable, that other adults can provide both comfort and guidance and that all sorts of new experiences await. As your child moves through the school system their world continues to broaden and in many of our towns and cities children have the opportunity to meet others whose outlook is totally different.
In the aftermath of the Second World War, parties of German children frequently visited British schools and stayed for varying lengths of time. The rationale was that, first of all many of these children were still living in refugee camps and could benefit from more comfortable conditions but most importantly that if German and British children sat side by side in class it was less likely that they would wish to fight each other for a third time. Who knows, perhaps that aim was at least partly fulfilled in that a war between European nations now seems an impossibility.
In my school we have a tradition of educating international students from many parts of the world. We have received students from China, Hong Kong, Germany, Spain, the USA, Poland, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, Thailand, Brazil and Russia in recent years. Strong friendships have developed between overseas and local girls, and the benefits are mutual. Overseas students come here to experience the British way of life and to benefit from a British style of education. The friends who they take home with them have the chance to look at the world through other eyes and to experience other cultures.
The same is true of children who live in towns or cities where there is a multi-cultural community. My granddaughter may have the chance to learn some Urdu or Bengali as she grows up and she will never see another girl whose head is covered as an alarming alien. These will be her friends, neighbours and classmates.
Our hope is that these childhood experiences will repeat the British/German effect of the post war period, that children who grow up together will find it more difficult to regard each other as the enemy and that diversity in matters of culture and religion will become part of the backgrounds of their mutual lives.
Young children accept everything they meet with the same degree of curiosity and acceptance. Names that appear unusual to the adult are par for the course for the reception child for whom all names not yet encountered in the family are novel. Different styles of dress and types of food are all part of the excitement of school.
How lucky are the Early Years children who are encountering this rich new world for the first time.
One of our Early Years parents found it difficult to believe that paella was one of the most popular items on the menu. Beware, your five year old may be demanding even more exotic meals soon. ✿
Lynne Taylor-Gooby is Headmistress of The Royal School, the first school to follow the diamond teaching model in Surrey. Boys and girls are taught together until Year 3, separately until GCSE and together again for Sixth Form. Mrs Taylor-Gooby has four children (two girls and two boys) and has long been an ‘unofficial expert’ on the different learning styles of children and their need for happiness and stability to fulfil their learning potential.