Tag Archives: School

The equals

In an age where children are put under the microscope and continually assessed against every yard stick imaginable, it’s a wonder that they don’t all morph into bundles of neuroses dressed in matching school uniforms lugging around overstuffed school bags on their backs.

I get it. The idea is to get them all to conform to a set of behaviors and be measured against well defined assessments and then, if any child happens to score low (or high as the case may be) in a given area, that becomes an area of interest that teachers and obviously parents then need to focus on. Early detection. Early treatment. Better outcomes. I get it.

But there’s a problem. When these weights and measures were first being applied to our children, they seemed to only highlight one or two children in a given year, now you can’t swing a book bag without hitting at least ten children in a class that are on some sort of ‘requires therapy’ spectrum. As a parent, you have to ask yourself; can this be right? Are we not now searching for problems a little too enthusiastically and with such a fine toothed comb that ultimately we find exactly what we were looking for?

While I do support the idea of screening for potential problems and then treating them early to avoid bigger problems down the line, I do think that we’re missing something pretty obvious in more instances than the system would like to admit and that is this; we are talking about children. They do not all mature at the same rate. They are not all the same age in the same grade. They do not all put their hands in the air before they speak. They do not all possess the ability to sit in a chair for an hour or more at a time without having to stand up to stretch their legs.

By way of example, some adults verbally process thoughts and ideas, yes I think there’s a term for that, it’s called ‘thinking out loud’. Why then do we expect every child to think internally? Why do we have to label any child that doesn’t conform in every area with an acronym? The favorite by a country mile at the moment being ‘ADHD‘.

Once that term gets bandied about, you find yourself having to take your child to some kind of therapy to address the ‘problem’. The therapy advocated, more often than not, is ‘occupational therapy‘, which I’m not a huge fan of (and that’s putting it as delicately as is humanly possible). The ‘problem’ is, more often than not, that your child is simply not like the other children. That’s it. That’s literally the ‘problem’ that you’re being asked to resolve.

Think about that for a moment.

I submit to you that for most parents, myself included, that particular ‘problem’ comes as no surprise at all. I have two children who are from the same genetic swimming pool. They are pretty close in age. They have been raised in the same way and have, incidentally, worn the same clothes and played with the very same toys (hand-me-downs being a superfine thing because they’re both boys) and I can tell you unequivocally, that they are as different from each other as candy floss and butternut.

Could we not perhaps be looking just that little bit too hard for problems? Should we not step back a little and say perhaps there is some other reason for a particular behavior presenting in a child. Perhaps we could consider weighting the age of a child a little more as a factor when doing assessments.

Here’s a simple example to illustrate the point. A child born in January and a child born in December of the same year are expected (in South Africa) to start school in the same year. You might be inclined to think that on the surface – that sounds quite reasonable. But let me put that another way for you, a child born in December is not actually even conceived at the time that a child born in January is, in fact, out of the womb and experiencing the world.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Can we then fairly compare the ability of both of those children to suckle on the day that the January baby is born? No, of course not. The December baby is still just a twinkle in the eyes of the parents or an ‘X’ on a calendar for date night on Valentine’s Day. Six months later can we compare the ability of the December baby to roll over onto their tummies on a play mat with that of the six month old January baby? Again, no, of course not. December babies are still in the womb, tugging on the umbilical cord for oranges and peanut butter. By the time a December baby is actually born, the January baby is crawling, in some cases even walking.

The list goes on.

I will concede that by the age of six or seven, the gap between our two hypothetical children narrows significantly, but there is still a gulf between them and I believe our school systems should make more allowances for that. At the moment they seem to lean towards ‘therapy’ to bridge the gap which then in some cases leads to medication. The whole diagnosis of these conditions is the subject of umpteen articles like this one.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I wholeheartedly support and salute teachers, they are the architects of our future. They shape the minds of the children that will one day choose nursing homes for all of us. I just wish they would step back every now and again and wait for a birthday to roll around.

For now, let’s celebrate the non-conformity of our children lest we end up in a world out of George Orwell’s nightmares.



The super schoolers

So the new school year has begun and my offspring have both progressed a year with the little guy going into reception year or Grade R and the big guy donning a school uniform and starting Grade one.

For the big guy it was all about the uniform. The uniform represented a mental shift for him from little boy at preschool to a ‘big’ school kid. He must have tried on the uniform a dozen times over the holidays, just itching to wear it. Dropping him off in the morning, with that improbably large school bag draped over his valiant little shoulders, I swell with pride and sometimes actual human emotions threaten to spill out of my eyes and onto my manly cheeks as I watch him stride confidently into the school. I try not to show it of course, but on the days he turns around and gives me one of those whole body waves goodbye, where his arm arcs from his knees to the sky and he stands on tiptoes with a smile as wide as the ocean, I find myself having to take deep steady breaths to maintain my composure. Basically, I’m a big softie.

In high school he will most likely be slouching into school with a small satchel slung over one shoulder and a ‘cheers dad’ cast over the other. He’ll almost certainly be petitioning for the abolishment of school uniforms, of that I have no doubt and he will in all probability be defacing his school trousers by tapering them and wearing his hair just that little bit longer than the regulations allow.

For now though he’s as proud as a peacock of his uniform and uniformity and is following the rules beautifully. Long may it last.

The little guy was all business as usual. He seemed genuinely excited to start in his new class this year but I think the excitement had less to do with the fact that he was now in Grade R than the fact that there were new and exciting toys to play with. The rest of his routine hardly changed at all, chief amongst his habits being the need to finish his juice as we drop him off at his class while he surveys the toy landscape. Another huge plus for him is of course being able to play on the jungle gym equipment every morning before school. Whereas last year was always a mad rush to get to class on time, this year we find that the pre-school starts a good quarter of an hour later than the primary school and that affords my little champ ample time to burn off excess energy before being roped into the classroom to paint pictures, practice letterland, sing songs and learn Xhosa amongst all the other busy things they do.

He seems so small though. When I watch him run to his class to line up, I see my smiling little toddler, with clumsy little feet, completely wild hair and grubby hands. I find myself wanting to press pause and let him grow just a little more before he has to spend a whole day at school away from us. As I said, a softie.

He’s always going to be too little I think. One day he’ll be getting ready to sit behind the wheel of a car with a valid license in his pocket and I’m quite certain I’ll be panicking about the fact that my little free spirit is going to be doing such a grown up thing. As an aside, here’s a public service announcement, that day is less than thirteen years away, you should all be making preparations for it.

For the big guy, along with this change in his schooling dynamic, comes an endless stream of questions. He requires an explanation for literally everything. If I say come here, he says why. If I say pick that up, he says why. If I say talk quietly he says why. It’s not cheek mind you, he genuinely wants the answers. Why do the stars move? Why are there no more dinosaurs? Why did the emperor trick Anakin into becoming Vader? I tell you, I need an extra hour of sleep at night dedicated to recovering from answering the why questions. Also, he seems to radiate energy, sometimes it’s as a long stream of speech that escapes from him like air leaving a steam whistle and sometimes it’s in the form of continuous movement, like a small boat hurtling down a whitewater rapid. Sometimes the energy just escapes as loud farts and sometimes they’re the quiet kind. He’s a boy after all.

The little guy is like a train, he’s on his own track and has planned his journey well in advance. Really, once he’s made his mind up about something, changing it requires a superhuman effort on our part. We have to get ahead of him, flip the switch and then make our way back to the caboose to convince him that the change we’ve made for him (ahead on the tracks) is in his best interests. He can also do deadpan looks like no one else I know. The look can disarm you and make you doubt who’s actually in charge. At times he seems capable of having an entire conversation with you without uttering a word at all, instead deftly handling questions you ask him with inscrutable looks. He also farts.

The little guys seem to be developing new and baffling idiosyncrasies almost faster than we can keep up. When they grow up, they  want to be anything from paleontologist or pilot to professional inventor or super hero. Batman was mentioned recently but Robin did not feature and I can understand that, his outfit was never going to be as cool as the Dark Knight’s

I’m going to make sure I watch the little guys very closely this year, I don’t want to miss the moment they turn into superheroes.

The biggest light show

The Johannesburg Planetarium is a place that for me will always be tied to school outings. I must have been taken there on school field trips a half a dozen times over the years. All of my visits there have been blended into my memory as a single fluid kaleidoscope of adventure inside a dome, under the stars.

It was always cold, for some reason we always went there in winter. That may have a been as a result of the city offering discounted or free visits for winter school groups. For me, it added to the charm of the place and wearing gloves and jerseys made the shows that much more exciting. There was always a little downside to those visits though in the form of the dreaded questionnaire you were given before you left the school. Pages and pages of asinine questions about the trip you were about to go on, including everything from when the structure was built to how that particular Zeiss projecter came to find its home in a leafy suburb of Johannesburg. 

The padded reclining chairs were always really cold and when you arrived, you immediately scampered about to find the perfect seat. Once you’d staked your claim, your first job was to warm the seat up so that your buttocks were at a comfortable temperature when the show started. There was always a buzz in the dome as chattering of excited teeth mingled with laughter and horseplay. Then suddenly the lights would fade and everything would be plunged into an inky blackness as a booming voice circled the room and millions of stars literally exploded into existence across the ‘night sky’. As the show progressed, the pages of questions you were ment to fill in, often found their way onto the floor and more often than not, stayed there.

Of course it looks much smaller today than it seemed to me then. It was a cavernous place, in reality though, not such a big building, even less so inside than out. But that phenomenon is true of everything we remember from our childhood, isn’t it? A single bed for instance was big enough for you to roll over twice in before falling off and it was twice as long as it needed to be for your short legs. The top shelf of your cupboard held mysterious clothes in it that you could never see and the garage was a big, drafty room where the car slept and where, right at the back in the dark, the stuff that nightmares are made from hid. Every house has that one place, right?

So, we took our boys to the planetarium for the first time today. The visit was inspired by the perpetual load shedding being implemented around the country at the moment, which has resulted in the fairly regular evening practice of shining torches with star field templates onto the ceiling of the little dudes room at bedtime. A scaled-down planetarium if you will, affectionately referred to in our home as a ‘light show’.

We got an early start and took the boys on a whistle stop tour of the museum adjacent to the Planetarium while we waited for the show to start. The dinosaur exhibit was closed which really meant the museum was not exactly as exciting as it might have been. The minutes ticked away and eventually we made our way down to the Planetarium which itself was oddly only accessible via a nondescript, single entrance doorway. Once I inside we picked a row of seats and then tried to get comfortable. A note to parents of small children; when visiting the Planetarium, take a dumbbell with you to weigh down the chair. Your children are not bulky enough to recline the seats all the way back on their own.

The lights dimmed and I watched my eldest, sitting next to me, get drawn into the sweet little story about a Dragon that wanted to know everything about the night sky. We learned about the solar system. About night and day. About gravity and the orbits of the planets around our sun, ‘Sol’. And ultimately being left with the message that whatever time of day it was, one could look up at the sky and always see at least one star (weather permitting). The little guy was also quite impressed by the show, but his attention span is not quite as long as a piece of spaghetti and as such, he was less inclined to stay in his seat as the show progressed, eventually bowing out of the event ten minutes before the end with his mom. The show wrapped up with the Dragon conceding ‘he needed a few more lessons about the night sky before he could call himself an expert’.

When the lights came back on and the patrons, including a troop of Cub Scouts, began to shuffle out of the dome, I found myself making a mental note to write about the day so that my boys one day might read this post and perhaps recall their first visit to the Planetarium with Mom and Dad.

I hope they remember it was huge…