27 Oct 2014

A Plea for Childhood


I was alarmed today when my daughter told me that my five year old granddaughter is now to have four homework sessions to do each week, as well as reading aloud every night. I assume this is some kind of government initiative or something - but I think they have got it wrong. Quite apart from wondering how the hell parents are supposed to have time to supervise all this on top of everything else, I feel it is deeply unhelpful for the children. Children need home time - not home work. They they need oodles of unstructured freedom to explore the world. And to do this they need time out alone and time to play with other children too, without grownups interfering all the time.

I didn't get homework until I was eight and even then it was traumatic. I was given endless spellings to learn and I still can't spell, even though I'm a writer! One night I was given forty sums to do and I was so overwhelmed by the scale of the assignment that my brain went into lock-down and I couldn't even do the first one. I just sat and cried - and for weeks after that I had sleepless nights, cowering under the bed-clothes while a kind of wraith of my teacher hovered outside my (upstairs) bedroom window peering in through a crack in the curtains.

Not only was I terrified - I was full of impotent rage and frustration, because homework was a complete bore and it meant I had less time get on with the important stuff. You know - building a tree house; lighting camp-fires; writing and directing a play; chemistry experiments; baking; painting; making coil pots; collecting stamps; reading enthralling stories; playing musical instruments; kite flying; stilt walking; watching a wren build a nest; planting sunflowers....not to mention simply lying under a tree gazing up at the clouds. Or finding Orion in the night sky. Or, or, or....I could go on and on. I should probably write a book.

In the process of doing all this I learned a lot about the world around me. My creativity was fired up, my body grew strong, and I learned how to take care of myself, and relate to other people.  Grownups hardly seemed to be involved at all - my parents simply provided interesting ideas, books and raw materials and then backed off, making constructive suggestions from time to time while largely keeping well out of the way and getting on with their own grownup world stuff. When my own children came along I brought them up in very much the same way because it seemed the natural thing to do.

Children need to develop creatively, emotionally, physically and spiritually, as well as intellectually. It's not all about learning how to spell, do sums and come top. So come on - let's give them back some freedom and that precious time to explore the exciting world they live in, rather than force-feeding them twenty-four seven.