Hey, minister, leave those toddlers alone!

Dot writes: here’s a report I find infinitely depressing: the UK government apparently proposes a set of compulsory educational targets for the under-fives. Where to begin? They clearly mean well, and disadvantage in the early years can have a lasting impact, as can early progress. But to be weighing and assessing children at such a tender age, sorting the high-crawlers from the low-rollers…

Children develop in different ways and at different paces. One of the hardest lessons of my own early motherhood so far, but one I think I have learned, is that it only makes me unhappy, and is no help to Hugh, to compare him to other babies and wonder why he hasn’t reached some milestone that they have passed. He needs to be given opportunities to learn things, of course, but the main thing is that he does learn them, not when. I can’t help feeling that to have educational targets at that stage is to let an abstracted average of childhood, expressed in lists, intervene between adults and the particular, human child. If a child is given stimulation and the chance to explore and, above all, love and attention, then that child will develop and grow. If the parents and carers concentrate on the child, then there’s no need for targets. If they concentrate on targets, they’re in danger of neglecting the child.

The other really depressing aspect of this plan is the assumption that the majority of children will be cared for in a standardized and institutional way in creches or by childminders. The UK government is, of course, eager to get all parents in work, because then the children are cared for by paid employees instead of the people who love them most and there are three jobs rather than one to be counted towards the economy. Now, I’m a working mum and I love my job, so I’m not saying all mums (or all dads) should stay at home with the kids. I’m also happy with our childminder, who is very easy-going and has fun with Hugh rather than hot-housing him. But it does sound like toddlers are getting enlisted in the system. They too must be productive and reach their quotas. It makes me want to run away (even though I’m not actually in the UK) and live in a commune where Hugh will be home-schooled and we’ll raise our own goats.

Peace and love.


4 thoughts on “Hey, minister, leave those toddlers alone!

  1. Mairi

    I agree with you Dot; its an age where we seem to be great on policies for the masses (the children of elite will have nannies of course, rather than go to childcare centres) and quantitative indicators of efficience, but short on policies of compassion and quality of life indicators. Suppose they find that little Johnny is seriously behind in 6 of the 13 targets, what then?

  2. Well I’m digging my heels and not going back to work… Not yet at any rate. Perhaps though I should qualify that as “out” to work since I am kept busy enough with Amelia, house-work, cats and Jewellery work.

    I have to say that I think Amelia will probably get more a head start on things at home with me than corralled in child care. I can’t even bring myself to consider it after reading the badly put together prospectuses for the local places.

    Home-schooling becomes more tempting every day.

  3. Dot

    Good for you, Sunbug. I would do the same if we could afford it. On the other hand, it’s perhaps a good thing we can’t, as I would miss my job.

    Mairi, that’s a very good point about what if little Johnny doesn’t meet all the targets – what exactly are they going to do? Make his parents feel bad, and not much else, I suspect.

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