Last Friday I was out for a drink with Red Ninja Studios www.redninja.co.uk who have developed my interactive app to help children with their reading. First and only shameless plug coming up – the app is available on iOS and Android for tablet and smart phone. Just search for Little Lamb Phonics. Anyway, back to the blog! We’ve worked closely with Red Ninja over the last few months and I think it’s fair to say that Lamby has made a lasting impression upon them all, but for the purpose of the evening out, we left Lamby at home while we enjoyed ourselves.
There was a wide mix of people there and as is normal the topics of conversation ranged from current affairs to trivia. Another associate of Red Ninja heard I used to be a teacher and posed a question
“My niece went to Nursery from the age of 2 and she’s made great progress and is successful. Is that normal if you go to Nursery at 2?”
Now, on a night out you don’t always have time to make a considered remark due to noise levels and of course, the size of the wine glass! However, my initial reaction was this “It depends”. I listed a few reasons why this was but the conversation has stuck in my mind causing me to mull it over. In the cold light of day, following time to consider the question, I would still answer ‘it depends’ and below are the four reasons why I believe this to be true. It’s nothing scientific, no research has been conducted, it is merely 18 years working with those fantastic bundles of energy called children. So here we go…
What is success?
How do you define success? Well that depends too! For some, success is about money, the big house and the nice car. For some, it is about health and happiness. Whereas for others it is getting to Oxbridge or at least university. Unfortunately, over the last few years there has been a real emphasis on academic achievement and university. When I went to Uni over 20 years ago, it was the thing to do. So called Mickey Mouse degrees were everywhere. You could write a theses on Coronation Street or The Beatles. The problem with this was too many graduates and not enough graduate jobs. The hands on jobs such as plumbers, electricians and builders were looked down upon. But ask yourself this, who would you rather fix your boiler – the plumber or the Coronation Street expert? I know who I’d go for!
The current education system only grades success according to exam results, SATS and end of year results. In other words academic success is the be all and end all. Teachers all over the world bemoan the fact that many children have skills that are just not valued or recognised because they are neither Maths or English. Now don’t mis-understand me, literacy and numeracy skills are vital for everyone but there are other subjects that are just as worthy too. This leads me nicely onto the next reason.
Despite what the government and data analysists would like you to believe, children and in fact people, do not fit into convenient boxes. Six months old is the generally agreed age when babies will start to sit up but nowhere do all the six month babies around the world suddenly sit up en mass! Some will be younger, some older, none will be the same and this continues throughout life.
Some children get on well in school whereas others won’t. Some children will have a naturally higher IQ than others (something the government just doesn’t want to acknowledge). Each child has their own particular strengths. If you want to spot the builders, architects and surveyors of the future sit back and watch who plays with the Lego all the time. For the future scientists look to the water, sand and discovery trays. Want to know who the future surgeons or dress makers are? Look who can thread the tiniest beads and use tweezers with ease and precision. But these skills which are actively encouraged in Early Years settings such as Nurseries and Reception classes are soon forgotten from Year 1 upwards. Not only is this tragic, it is wrong! So let’s focus on those Nurseries next.
Quality Nursery Provision
The key word here is quality. I have been shocked over the last few years with the really poor standards of written and spoken English that some Nursery (and school) staff use. For too long working with small children has been viewed as the perfect career for under achieving girls. What an insult to the profession! Early Years is a real niche area that requires high levels of skill in many areas. One of those areas should be a good level of literacy and numeracy. Thankfully, there are many excellent Nurseries and pre schools that do a fantastic job and they can be divided into two broad categories. First there are the Nurseries who are attached to schools. Until recently these took children aged 3 upwards to prepare them for school. As the government are now offering funded places for 2 year olds this could mean more children in school settings from an earlier age. I have mixed feelings about that but that is for another debate. The second category is the private and voluntary sector. Basically these are day care centres, day nurseries, play groups etc. Most day care and day nurseries take children from 6 months old to school age.
Nurseries can offer a rich, stimulating and interactive environment for any child. Important social skills are learnt. Children do not naturally share, take turns or show kindness to one another. These are all skills that need to be taught. Social skills such as learning to play with others and be aware of others, physical skills such as toilet training and negotiating space safely and communication skills such as listening to others and being able to describe what you want are absolutely vital. Traditionally, these skills were taught and encouraged at home but now with more and more children starting Nursery and even school without proper toilet training the Nursery staff have to focus on this before reading or writing can be considered. Which moves me on to my last point.
I mentioned this in my last blog and at risk of sounding like a stuck record, I will mention it again. Parental support is vital! Talking to, encouraging, spending time, engaging with children is really key to success. One of the Red Ninja team explained how his dad had actively encouraged him to play with and learn about computers when he was little. It has paid off: a little investment all those years ago has led to a highly enjoyable career working for a great company in the ever expanding Digital Creative sector. Ok so the team member might have ended up in this job regardless but it was very clear that he felt his parents’ support was invaluable.
For myself, parental and indeed the wider family offered me and continue to offer me support and encouragement. Although leaving teaching was a difficult decision for me the knowledge that my family fully supported that decision made it much easier.
To Sum Up
Will all children do well if they start Nursery at 2? With a combination of the above, all children should be able to socialise with others and be able to achieve to the best of their own ability. THEIR OWN ABILITY! Not one prescribed by a suit in Westminster who is out of touch with the realities of life anywhere outside of London or an Education Authority obsessed with data and results but can’t tell you one thing about the children they are responsible for. The key is to find out what each child enjoys and succeeds at and nurture those skills whether the child is at home, Nursery, school, college or Uni. This will lead to happy, content and successful individuals and really that is all anyone can ask for.
Thanks for reading.