Four-year-old Prince George started school this week along with tens of thousands of other little ones throughout the UK, my grandniece included. I do remember my first day at school, being dragged along by my big sister as I was a reluctant starter. It seems I hadn’t wanted to leave my mother who had had to stay behind with my baby sister.
My own children were happy starters on that first day for each of them, not even looking back when I left them in the classroom. My generation of young mums went to a lot of trouble to get it right. We were the Dr Spock devotees and schools, by that time, had become much less rigid. We prided ourselves in preparing our children for the big day. Modern parenting was almost a new science. We had all the answers. We thought. My first child decided on the fourth day he wasn’t going back. Far too boring, he declared to his astonished father. It was back to the instruction book again.
Over three decades on you would think the problems would all have been sorted and no child would be unhappy to go to school, or God forbid, find it boring. Sadly it seems not to be the children who are the problem now, but the parents. The results of a survey carried out by the National Association of Head Teachers and the Family and Childcare Trust revealed this week that four-year-olds who arrive at school without being able to speak properly are on the rise. Speech, language and communication skills are the greatest cause for concern for teachers.
Most heads (83 per cent) said that four-year-olds are “not adequately prepared for school” and the issue has “worsened over the past five years”. They put this down to pressure on family life where parents have less time to engage with, listen to and talk to their children. The report says that while some technology is great it won’t replace a conversation with a parent or sitting and reading a book together.
It was, says the NAHT director James Bowen, also compounded by a reduction in local services such as speech therapy and Sure Start centres for youngsters due to a squeeze on council budgets.
Many families today are pushed sometimes beyond limits. Low pay has driven mothers out to work to help the family budget limiting the time they can spend on their young children. It’s not hard to understand why television and computer games have become the new teachers of our young to the detriment of their early education. It’s so easy for parents to forget the potential of their children at that early age. It annoys me to see parents pushing small children in buggies where the child is facing forward having no interaction with its mother who has a mobile phone clamped to her ear. Even worse, I’ve seen very young children in buggies with headphones on. It’s almost as though some parents will use every device they can find to avoid having to entertain or educate their children themselves.
The young parents I associated with when my children were young made sure their children knew how to count to 10 at least before they went to school.
We even taught them how to ‘sing’ the alphabet. And bed-time reading was never compromised. In households up and down the country today children young and old relate more to technology than to people. No wonder they have difficulty talking.