Friday, November 17, 2006

Re-post: "Parents should spend more time with their children" - Nov 06

From Tuesday, November 14, 2006

"Parents should spend more time with their children": Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York

In a recent interview, The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu said:

"'We are raising expectations that cannot be met. Parents should spend more time with their children. They should be reading to them, entertaining them.

'I was born in a village where we didn't have any toys. Sometimes, when a neighbour's car needed a new tyre, he gave you the worn out one, so you could run and wrestle with it. This was the great height for children!

'And yet, my parents, particularly my mother, was wonderful in the evenings. She would have all of us children (Sentamu is the sixth of 13 children) sitting round a fire telling us amazing stories, bonding the family together.'

He says that everything in life springs from the relationship between a parent and child and deplores the neglectful, vapid environment of contemporary childhood.

'We have become a society where we all gather round the microwaves, or the television.

Even while you are eating, the television is blaring. Come on! Parents should spend more time talking to children because behaviour is learned in the home. It is no good blaming schools.

Once children have reached 11 and you have not been with them, then you have lost them. That is the difference with what happens in a Jewish home or a Muslim home, where the raising of the children is paramount.'

'Victorian values are always being berated but at least parents back then put children and their education first. I look now and see these latchkey kids, some as young as seven.' 'We hear too much of people's rights. At the heart of it there are responsibilities. To do that which I ought.'

'Manners, behaviour, attitude, always begin in the home. We mustn't use schools as a way of bringing up children, that is not right. Even animals don't do that.'"

Excellent sentiments, with which I wholeheartedly concur. But I don't see anyone asking Dr Sentamu exactly which hours parents should be spending with their children, reading to them and entertaining them.

The early morning hour before school? I remember this time being pack-jammed with finding uniform, getting dressed, locating PE kits, shovelling breakfast down, last-minute homework, face-washing, hair-brushing, getting into the car, queuing through the traffic in a frantic attempt to make registration. And that was if you could get your children out of bed on time.

The hour or two after school? If you're lucky enough to finish work by 3pm, which most parents aren't nowadays, your children would anyway want to only flop, zombie-like in front of the TV. Getting them to do homework at this time is an uphill struggle. The very last thing they want to do is look at a book.

Tea-time? If I could persuade them to interrupt their precious few after-school hours of freedom by sitting to eat with me, I couldn't get much conversation out of my young schoolchildren. As an adult, I was the enemy, so they were reluctant to tell me anything. Instead, they bickered amongst themselves. They were confrontational and overly defensive then.

Evening? Many children are expected to attend activities like brownies, guides, music classes, etc. And also be in bed in good time to be up early for the next day. Not much time for sitting around the fire telling stories there. And there's still the dreaded homework to get done.

Other parents of schoolchildren might have different experiences, but I found the out of school hours to be one long struggle with my children. I was reluctant to put any demands on them like "Come and listen to this story," or even "Let's sit around the fire." They were just about surviving the system and this took all their energy. We all were.

Within a few weeks of deregistering they were happy to come and listen to a story, but recovering their interest in life took months - probably over a year.

I wonder if Dr John Sentamu, brought up in Uganda, was in full-time school from the age of four. It doesn't sound like it to me.

posted by Gill at 2:42 PM 8 comments...

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Yep. When P was at school there was very little time for anything. I remember crying at the end of one of the summer holidays when I realised that the only real chunks of time I'd get to spend with her during childhood were those six week summer breaks.

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Posted by Allie to Sometimes It's Peaceful at 11/14/2006 03:23:52 PM

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I used to cry with happiness when the summer holidays started. I ahted the school run. Battling heavy traffic in the winter with a double buggy with prem twins in it and 5 kids with zero road sense. That was after the up at 7 and the ritual shouting up the stairs for 45 minutes to get everyone up, dressed, washed, breakfasted and out with all the crap they needed for that day. Then on a night it was tea, homework, baths, pack up making and bed and I was a stay at home parent. I do not ever remember doing any reading except their school reading books.

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Posted by Ruth to Sometimes It's Peaceful at 11/14/2006 04:47:40 PM

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Well, I did have one of those idyllic childhoods - in South London in the 70s and 80s. I was at school from rising-5, until I was 18 1/2.
We didn't have a tv, and my parents seemed to have made a conscious decision to do interesting things with us. Often I think they did more with my brother and I than I do with my 4 (who have never been to school).

We had bedtime stories pretty much every night until we were about 12 (one of the last books my dad read us was Catch 22). We spent evenings together, we went out at weekends. We had brilliant holidays in dodgy B&Bs.

We didn't eat together in the week (my mum childminded for several years, so we ate with the minded kids (usually only one) before my dad got home), but we always ate together at weekends. We ate out a lot too. I still love having a meal at their house (which I do fairly frequently!), as we just revert straight back to those crazy conversations :)

My dad taught us about all sorts of things, and my mum was always there to sit and chat to. I don't think Sentamu is being unreasonably idealistic.

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Posted by Alison to Sometimes It's Peaceful at 11/15/2006 06:51:21 PM

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I'm glad to hear that it's possible to combine a healthy home life with full-time school Alison. Or at least, that it was in the 70s and 80s. My parents didn't manage it by virtue of the fact that we were out every evening at a variety of extra-curriculur activities.

I think if we'd stayed with my dad, things might have been different, but with my chartered accountant stepdad my mother was able start fulfilling the upwardly mobile aspirations she held on our behalf.

I still don't think, having compared full-time school for my children, with full-time home for them, that there's enough time outside of school hours for a family to do everything they might want to do at home. Unless they didn't want to do much at home, I guess.

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Posted by Gill to Sometimes It's Peaceful at 11/15/2006 07:47:32 PM

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And yes Ruth, same here! About 45 mins shouting at them to wake up in the morning, and panic panic to get everything done in the evening.

I can't believe Dr Sentamu experienced all this and they still had time to sit around the fire and hear stories.

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Posted by Gill to Sometimes It's Peaceful at 11/15/2006 06:41:40 AM

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We did a few activities, but we weren't out every night - because my parents clearly valued family life. I know several school-using families today who seem quite content, have happy well-adjusted children who are very close to their parents and so on. And seem to fit plenty into their lives :)

Maybe it's because my children haven't been to school that I don't feel the need to demonise it. The worst my school did to me was to bore me, but there was always enough entertainment at home to make up for it.

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Posted by Alison to Sometimes It's Peaceful at 11/15/2006 09:13:53 PM

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My children's experience of school was a lot different to my own too. When I was at school in the 70s and 80s (pre-NC) teachers were allowed a lot more autonomy and flexibility regarding lesson content and teaching style. Our work wasn't marked or tested excessively, and our teachers weren't observed or judged a lot.

I remember having one very miserable year with a teacher who didn't like me (or maybe she didn't like anyone! but I took it personally) which may or may not have been noticed and 'corrected' under the current system. But the rest of the time things were more pleasant and free than for my first three children, 20+ years later. Not ideal, or really fun, but bearable. There were children of varying interests and abilities and these all seemed to be catered for, or at least tolerated peacefully.

2o years later, my dyslexic son was being kept inside, alone, every break time and lunch time period 'until he learned his spellings'. This was a top of the league-tables school which was determined to perform well in SATs and Ofsted inspections, regardless of the emotional wellbeing of its pupils.

Maybe some children still survive the system unscathed. I really hope so, but our family experience (all three of my older children had some major problems at school) tells me this is becoming increasingly difficult.

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Posted by Gill to Sometimes It's Peaceful at 11/15/2006 09:46:13 PM

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