I’ve had to do a ton of reading this year on brains. On the surface I think all the stuff about the brain is pretty cool- it’s this ugly looking thing that does so much. And we only use like 10% of it. Crazy! And different parts of the brain control different parts of us, our movements, our feelings, our learning. It’s like Atlantis- this whole unknown city.
I can almost hear you snoring at your computer screen upon reading my nerdiness. Soz.
One of the things I’ve had to do some reading up on is this whole thing about Growth Mindset. What the hell is that? Well, you know how they say IQ is fixed? This fancy little number that gets spat out at you when you do a series of ridiculous tasks that you’d never do in real life? Well, according to Carol Dweck, it’s not fixed. And the way we approach things, based on our mindset, will determine how well we actually do. We can literally grow our brains. Huh? I know.
So, nearly halfway through popping my cherry in the school system (as a parent), and it’s been a real eye opener. I realised the other day that this time last year I was madly in the throes of comparing schools, going to interviews, praying to whoever would listen that Miss DP would respond to the questions asked with some form of a response that remotely matched the idea being asked of her. She has a knack of responding to questions with random facts that have nothing to do with anything. See previous post here explaining said phenomena. #kidlife
You might be in the same position this year. Or choosing the right school could be upon you before you know it. Not to alarm you, but somehow you blink your eyes and your kid is five and heading to school and talking about boyfriends and girlfriends and you just want to bury your head in the sand. Or into a large glass of vino. How does it happen so fast? Is it the vast amounts of vino consumed to cope in those early years? Or is it that kids have this way of setting time to warp speed? I’m thinking a little of column A, a little of column B.
Anyways, if you’re wondering how the heck to select the school that you feel is going to be the right fit for your cherub, here’s a couple of ideas:
The School Vibe
I know, sounds a bit wanky right? But each school has a vibe. And a reputation to go with that vibe. You know your child better than anyone else, and it’s all about fitting your child to that school. How does the school feel when you walk in? Inviting? Busy? Is it a big school, or a smaller one? That’s something to consider against your child’s personality. They may thrive better in a smaller environment. How does your child respond when you go to the school interview? Does the staff seem cohesive and happy? This is a biggie. Happy staff= happy kids. Do the students seem friendly as you wander around? It has to feel right for you, and for your child. You’re both going to be spending a lot of time in that place!
Health and Safety
How’s it looking to you? The amenities up to scratch? Safety and wellbeing are of course a no brainer, but some schools might focus on it a bit more than others. Check out playgrounds and their policies on health and safety. Are the classrooms and school grounds clean and tidy? Particularly in this day and age when allergies are so huge, it’s important to make sure that there are clear plans in place and that things are tidy and clean. Check to see if the school utilises a commercial cleaner, like AMC Cleaning (http://www.amcclean.com.au/ their website has some good info on just what goes on in maintaining classrooms ), and how they maintain their procedures. Because, if your cherubs are anything like mine, chewing on manky shit is their forte, and if floors aren’t clean, they’ll find grubby crap on it and make a beeline for their mouths like a heat-seeking germ missile. I gave up after they started sharing food with our dog.
What does the school stand for? Do they have a focus on social and emotional wellbeing? Now, I might be a bit bias here, but really, social emotional wellbeing is so integral to successful learning. Research has shown time and time again that you can have all the academics in the world, but if you don’t have social emotional wellbeing intact, then the academics go out the window. Check at your interview- what do they do for social emotional learning? Do they run programs in the school? What does the school consider to be an important focus for them? Are they an academic super house? Do they have a large arts culture? You need to look at what is going to work best for you and your cherub, and see where the best fit is.
All schools now have to operate from the National Curriculum, or ACARA- we love a good acronym, right? But there’s different ways to get that curriculum across. Look at the way your child learns- and consider what is going to work out best for you. Some kids are more visual learners, some more verbal. Some require a little more repetition, some can handle a faster pace. While every school needs to differentiate, some might be a better fit for your child than others. Ask around- talk to other parents from different school communities, to see how the curriculum is run there. Is there access to technology? Is there a learning support team if your child struggles? And social emotional learning is now part of the curriculum- it’s known as a general capability.
What is on offer for the children at that particular school? Do they run other activities, like music, dance, drama? Is that even important to you? Extra-curriculars are a big part of a lot of schools nowadays. Some parents think it’s the best, others don’t want any extra pressure on their kids. It’s really about whatever is going to work best for you and your child.
And a final word. I really truly believe that a child will thrive anywhere provided they have the right supports and care around them. Sometimes even the ‘worst’ schools can actually turn out to be the best. However, there is no harm in doing a bit of hunting around and giving our kids a leg up where we can. It’s got to be the right fit for you, and for your child. For us, we had a school down the road that would have been super convenient, but it just didn’t feel right for Miss DP. So we do travel a little further at the moment, but it’s been worth it. It will all work out, and your cherub will be refusing to tuck their school shirt in before you can reach for the glass of vino. Good luck!
How were your school years? Did you feel you were in the right place for you?
We’re getting to the end of our Monster Series. We’ve seen enough of these suckers to last us a while now I think, yes? This one critter today though is a particularly tough one, and tends to recruit all the other monsters we’ve discussed previously. That’s how sneaky this bastard is. Please meet the Learning Monster.
I know. This sounds like a lesson in ‘how to suck eggs 101’, right? Well, seems simple enough but for some reason when we get in to our Mama bear/Dada bear mode all logic can go out the window. Fair enough too.
Our kids spend a ton of time in school. They’re going to have a ton of teachers guiding them along the way. For the most part, they’ll have fantastic educators, be guided, and build great connections. Sometimes it goes a bit pear shaped though, and we have to step in and do a bit of work with our child’s teacher. It’s life. Not everything is perfect. But there’s ways and means of going about it, you know?
I sat in on my first info evening for my biggest little lady last night. Holy hell, I feel like I’m living in that place! Anyways, the teachers were talking about the changes to the curriculum and that ‘more is now expected of preps’. That didn’t sit well with me. More is expected of them? Of 4 and 5 year olds? What do we want from these little people? It seems that there is now this huge shift toward heavy curriculum and a move away from play based learning. Which is shit. Kids are only kids for such a short period of time. And it has been well researched and documented just how important play is for learning and development. Why are we in such a rush to throw these little ones into a formal curriculum? Does it make them better? Smarter? The jury is still out on that one. Now don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great to get an early start, and to utilise those little minds when they are like sponges, eager and ready to learn. But to push them to cram all this formal learning in their little minds, when many are still trying to adjust to not having a day sleep anymore, just seems a bit off.
Why is play so good for learning? Well, let me count the ways:
Play encompasses both social, emotional, physical and cognitive processes. It covers it all in a rich and amazing format!
Sometimes play includes frustrations, challenges, negotiation- it requires children to be constantly processing and thinking and modulating their environment
Play has consistently been demonstrated as a method children use to work through their queries or concerns. They will often play out their issues, and find resolutions. Even if adults can’t quite see it!
Still in the early stages of research, but play is being demonstrated to have an important impact on brain development. Play provides active exploration, which enhances and builds brain pathways (Lester & Russell, 2008). We all want our kids to have good neural pathways, right?
Children who are involved in quality play experiences are more likely to have enhanced memory skills, language development, behavioural and emotional regulation. Which then leads to benefits in school adjustment and more formal academic learning down the track (Bodrova & Leong, 2005).
Play doesn’t just mean making a mess in the sandpit. Play can be through interactive storybooks, role playing, home corner, dance and movement.
Play encourages a broader range of cognitive and oral language skills, which fosters motivation for future learning. We’ve got to get them enthusiastic and excited about learning before cramming their brains with specific, formal curriculum! (Nicolopoulou, 2010).
A lot of psych’s also use play as a form of therapy for younger kids, such is the power of play. It helps children communicate their struggles, to prevent or resolve challenges. It’s particularly useful in cases of trauma in early childhood. You can watch a child become ‘un-stuck’ from an issue over the course of weeks using play therapy. Watching the toys they select, how they use the objects, the language and interactions they employ. Fascinating stuff. And while it feels like you’re not doing much (well, for me it feels like that. I always feel like I have to ‘teach’ a strategy), you’re actually doing more by allowing them to play. Something maybe our curriculum needs to revert back to a bit more. There is still a fair bit of play in prep, but it has changed. And it is not at the level that it should be, we’re slowly moving further and further away from what is most important for our little ones. I’m interested to see how far in the other direction it heads by the time Miss SP gets to school.
So, before you pry that train from your cherubs hand, and try to shove a mathematical equation in front of them, you’re doing an awesome thing by letting them play. It’s the best kind of learning they can get at this early stage. There is plenty of time for formal learning of rules, equations, formulas and prose. Let us allow kids to be kids for a little while longer. And we will see the benefits down the track.
If you’re wanting to find more info on play, check out Maggie Dent. She is amazing. Such a great advocate for play based learning. You can also find her on Facebook.
Also you can check more info out here:
Early Childhood Australia- some great info on play based learning here:
Early Childhood News have a snazzy article to check out
And if you want any info on play therapy, check this site out
Where do you sit on the great play debate? Should we cut the play and go straight to the curriculum? Or do you think we’re pushing too hard too fast?
Mum cliques. Can you picture it? A posse of women, styled to the hilt, moving through the school grounds like svelte Terminators. Possibly also with red eyes. Scanning the crowds for who to align with, who can be let into the circle, and who can stand right the hell away from the circle thanks. Is this real life? Is it just fantasy? It is definitely something that I keep hearing about. And I have sadly seen firsthand in one particular environment. It leaves you feeling….. a bit ick really, doesn’t it? School is so much more than just dropping your cherub off for an education it seems. It’s not just your child that forms a relationship with the school community, you’ve gotta jump in too. Which is great in theory. It takes a village and all. But. Cliques. Coffees after school drop off with a side of bitching. Can’t even. Now, a huge caveat here is that by and large, I am sure cliques are a minority. The majority of Mums (and Dads) are awesome, supportive, and all want the best for their cherubs. But you know, like everything in life, there’s always a couple of sour grapes in the mix.
The Christmas tree has been packed away (hallelujah. Sorry, leftover Grinchmas here), fun in the sun has been had. Or sweating half your body weight away, same same. Lazy mornings, relaxed lunches, bedtime routines pushed out a little. Ahhhhh holidays. You so pretty. But then as quickly as it started, suddenly you’re staring down the barrel of routine again. Early morning wake ups, rallying the troops with military precision, organising, preparing…… where’s the wine? What do you mean it’s only 9am??
For some, school is a big part of this equation. It’s like going into labour, head down, intense for 10 weeks, then you breathe for 2 weeks. Rinse and repeat. Happy 2015! For others, it will be their first foray into the wonderful world of having to get your kid to school every.freaking.day. I’ll be one of the newbies, madly kissing my cherub goodbye and spit polishing shoes (probably not. But you get my drift).