Diary of a mothering worker
DR GABRIELLE JAMELA HOSEIN
EVERY END of term is a chance to assess whether we are teaching children the way that they learn or making them learn the way we teach; a misguided approach that helps to explain why so many students fail to do well, experience terror and fear at test time, and don’t particularly enjoy school.
In thinking about this, I’ve spent time looking at other schooling systems. In Amsterdam, they don’t begin to teach reading until seven years old. In Japan, there is no testing at all until children are ten as all their first years in school focus on developing ethics, independence and resilience; building community-spirit; and creating connections between children and nature.
As my own eight-year old child walks away from class bent over under the weight of her school bag, I’ve wondered if our understanding of childhood is the right one, for its emphasises children’s mental development, but hardly attends to their emotions.
This is such a strange decision to make as emotional experiences which we have as children define so many adults for the rest of their lives, and because children’s development is primarily emotional – in terms of their understanding of their feelings, their ability and willingness to express them, and their capacity to connect knowledge to emotional intelligence.
Childhood is when our life-long emotional map is established, often in ways we don’t come close to realising, despite the fact that these early emotional maps determine many of our decisions and relationships as adults.
What I’m referring to here is different from teaching morals and civic virtues, and even kindness and co-operation. There’s excellent guidance for that in children’s classes already. I’m referring to children’s relationship to their feelings, to each other’s feelings, and our own understanding of how key these are for their own success as well as for the fate of the future and the world.
How else to say it? Our future isn’t only in the books weighing down the school bags of our children, but also in the hearts beating like tiny bird wings in their little chests. Let’s not forget.
Indeed, who attends to children’s emotional development with the same time, effort, guidance and revision that is put to their school curriculum? Do parents and teachers even know what this means, and when and how to do it? Or what the consequences are of it not happening?
I’ve been thinking about this myself because I’ve been wondering how to react to Ziya’s end-of-term results. I’m not focused on her marks, she’s too young for those to indicate her academic future, but because final marks are signs of both academic and emotional strengths and weaknesses. We can revise the curricula all through the holidays. How to know what to do about everything else that shapes how she learns and copes and feels?
In wondering what kind of parent to be, I’ve thought hard about accepting lower marks because I know she’s an emotionally complex little character and there have been a few hard months for her over the course of this term.
In accepting possibly lower marks, how do I build her confidence through appreciating she’s doing her best, while also ushering her into the next life stages when she can do better? And in that process, how do I even know what her emotional needs are and what giving them the same focus and priority as schooling looks like?
As the end of term approaches, I’m urging gentleness and reflection from parents when opening those report cards. I’m also urging reflecting on context – both school and home – because those are where the answers to their marks also lie, with us, with our parental understanding of children’s developmental stages, with our capacity to attend to the emotional and mental fit necessary for learning.
There’s no rule book for knowing how to get the mind-heart balance. Each child is also different, and there isn’t a single parent who always gets it all right.
Keeping that in mind, know that some of their mistakes are reflections of ours, and if their report cards tell any truth, it’s that school marks count for some aspects of life, emotional learning is all that matters for others, and not one adult parent always gets an A grade at both all of the time.
I’m just trying to remember to support all forms of learning which children need. And to equally value all they know just as much as all they feel.