Claire Ashbourne writes on summer born babies, school readiness and house mess
MY HOUSE IS A REAL MESS. I’VE NEVER felt so swamped by the belongings of all six people who live here; the laundry, the paperwork, the kitchen, the laundry, the garden, the dogs. For once I’m not bothered. None of it seems to be my responsibility right now. Was it ever? Why did I claim it all as mine? I’m relinquishing the ties that bind me to all the stuff. And of course the result is a bit of chaos.
Right now I’m researching and writing things furiously in one long continuous wave that I’m not sure I want to end. There are dozens of piles of my books all over the house which I’m reading simultaneously, they’re spotted with post-it-notes chock full of scribbling which I can scarcely decipher. But when I sit to write I remember the lists and authors and studies and somehow manage to find just the right neon square of scribble. I take breaks to walk dogs, to plant late peas and sunflowers and yesterday a pear tree. I eat too much chocolate in lieu of lunches. In the evenings when I’d rather be at my desk but cannot be because younger people require me to be someone with conversation rather than thoughts I sit with a daughter on the floor instead and we bang and hammer and turn hundreds of tiny sticks and squares of wood slowly into bee hives made up of many wooden boxes and frames. During the day our efforts are piled right by my desk and so I sit and write with scents of fresh beeswax enveloping me, soothing my senses and smoothing out my thoughts of jagged words into combed and orderly print that slowly make up sentences and paragraphs.
Who knew that the subject matter of early childhood would pull me in so completely? Where the knowledge is so vast and cavernous I feel a perpetual hunger to taste it all. Its new but it’s also old. Since birthing my first son the notion of early childhood and the fascination it inspired in me has never left. Early childhood, this small part of our lives manages to define so much of who we become! It doesn’t end when we send our children to school but a large part of that early investment and intense time spent together is suddenly, drastically reduced.
'When asked, nearly all parents had no idea that they could apply to postpone their child’s start until five years of age'
We are one of only 12% of countries in the world that send our children to school at four years old. Most start at five and a good chunk at six. And we know that four is too early; for at least twenty years there has been a great movement to delay school start by at least a year by passionate experts. Despite Compulsory School Age beginning the term after a child’s fifth birthday parents receive a letter asking them to apply for their school place for when their child will only be four. Nearly all parents when asked had no idea that they could apply to postpone their child’s start until five years of age (or that the reception year was as optional as nursery). An extra year between four and five years of age at home or in nursery, an extra year of enrichment and gentle challenge, of rest and relaxation, of time to be at ease in body and mind, have the physical and emotional space to play and play and play! This gift of time, the extra year benefits everyone.
Early childhood is a magical and extraordinary time, one where we of the most rapid brain growth we will ever experience. I’ve seen firsthand my youngest daughter not coping emotionally and socially in her reception class. One day I was bewildered to hear she’d bitten someone. Knowing her (and that it was a superficial wound) my initial thought was – what situation must she have been in that she was so desperate she felt her only option was to bite someone? I felt devastated for her and she was indeed frozen in a kind of zombie shock when
I collected her. She was only just five. She was the oldest in her peer group. I can’t imagine how the children who were nearly a whole year younger managed to emotionally patchwork it through their school days. I suspect they didn’t. We tell ourselves everyone sends their children at this age, we look around and see it happening. We reassure ourselves that they seem fine, they all survive, we even manage to convince ourselves that this some-how teaches resilience and self-regulation. But I’d argue that they don’t thrive.
Millions of children will never have the option of considering the luxury of a slow paced home education. So those of us with voices and passion around protecting the most vulnerable of us and the most vulnerable period of life need to abandon the housework once in a while (or delay or postpone it at the very least) and have a revolutionary call to action. Even if its totality is pointing the way to informative website like summerborn. org. Summer is over (Winter is coming) and it’s time to face the new academic year armed with knowledge and conviction (and a shit load of laundry).
Claire is a home maker, home educator, sometimes even home birther. Urban dwelling mother of four seeks sanity by writing about daily life. Beauty, mud and dog hair included.
OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2019 thegreenparent.co.uk