Twenty years ago, in a services primary school, in Celle, Germany, I was a hardworking, reliable, responsible child in year 2. I remember when I wrote a story in year 2, which was probably graded using ancient national curriculum levels. It was the first piece of extended writing I had ever done independently. All of my other English lessons consisted of focussing on a sound. Thinking of 4 words that had that sound. Drawing my amazing pictures to illustrate each word and using my Alphabetland sounds to spell each word. Then I had to put the words into sentences.
I wrote in plain paper books. I was an expert at attaching a paper clip to my page and following the line guides correctly. (Something my children have no clue about and frustrate me greatly with, now we are in year 3 and using the line guide handwriting books. I model every time, where to start and how to form the cursive letters, yet they still write here, there and everywhere they please.) line guides? What are those? Paper clip? How do I get it back onto the paper without bending it so much out of shape that the paper just falls out?
When I was a pupil, in year 2, we did cooking in small groups, with the TA, in a small cookery room. We took turns mixing the ingredients in the bowl. We probably wrote some commands together, but not a full set of instructions with an introduction, ingredients list, equipment list, imperative verbs, adverbs and numbered steps in the method before closing the text with a friendly conclusion. I probably wasn’t even told that we used commands in instructions until I became a teacher! I knew it was a command, but had never officially been taught that. I don’t think. We didn’t spend a lesson reading through our work, improving our verbs, checking spellings or that we had included everything we needed because our teacher wasn’t going to use our writing as evidence for meeting a variety of statements in the assessment crieteria she needed to use, to prove she was a good enough teacher or that I was a good enough writer.
We dressed up and played pretend. We did actual gymnastics and dance for a substantial amount of time because we didn’t need to do any writing in the afternoon. We learned which shoes to wear for PE, whether it be indoor or outdoor PE. I knew the difference between plimsoles for indoor PE and trainers for outside. We didn’t need to check whether we should wear our shorts inside or our long PE trousers, because it was warm enough inside to wear shorts, and if it was cold outside, we would need to wear trousers, otherwise, we’d be freezing! We had common sense. Where on earth has common sense gone these days?
We went on outings to the town centre and on a boat ride along the river in Celle, Germany. We served each other nutritious lunches at dinner tables that were set with cutlery and plates ready and food in hot dishes. We said a lunchtime prayer. We sat at the same table every lunchtime, unless you were absent, in which case you stood at the front and were assigned a new seat before the prayer. Each dinner table was a square with 8 seats around it. At least one child from each year group sat at the table. Years 6s served the meat and gravy, year 5s potatoes, year 3 and 4 served the vegetables and KS1 children said “yes please” and “no thank you” at the dinner table because it was a sociable thing to do. My class sit at benches that fold up, eating their food whilst chatting and picking at the vegetables. They rarely use a knife and fork unless prompted to do so and need monitoring and supporting to saw through food when they are in KS1.
Mrs Donut (Don-nut), my year 2 teacher, shouted at me when I dropped a bowl of orange jelly on the floor. I saw my friend tips hers upside down and it didn’t fall out so I gave it a go and look what happened… all over the floor. That was the day I learned not to take so many risks in life! Yes she shouted at me, but consequently, I now know how to show respect towards others…
Another time, she accused me of cheating on a science activity because apparently, I’d gotten the same answer wrong as my friend Lauren. But Lauren was over at her table, being taught the right answers to her mistakes whilst I was reading the words to fill in the missing gaps, all by myself. I was stubborn as a child, and even more so as an adult, purely because of this one incident in my childhood. She wanted me to admit to copying my friend and I point blank refused to do so, because I knew I hadn’t. I’m an honest person, I wouldn’t lie to my teacher, but she didn’t believe me. My TA, Mrs Turner did. She realised I hadn’t copied and wasn’t lying, so worked with me to correct my mistakes. I loved Mrs Donut, but I wish she had believed me.
When I taught year 2 last year, all we did was work. We read, we wrote, we did Maths, we had lunch, we read, we wrote, we went home. I can’t imagine that their year 2 experience was half as fun as mine. (Until the trip to the seaside.)
The expectations and demands on 6-7 year olds is unbelievable now. It wasn’t expected of me 20 years ago, and I have a degree with a well paid (stressful) job, so why are we putting so much pressure on these young children now? Why are we striving to create a culture of children who don’t like writing or reading? Why are we making it so stressful for them? Why are we setting the standards so high, that they are now unachievable for many children in the education system? The only difference it’s going to make, is that these children will have nervous breakdowns in the middle of reading tests, even with so much gentle encouragement and support from adults in school and at home. We are essentially creating a country of mentally unstable children (and teachers) who will never have the confidence to do the things they are more than capable of, because no matter how hard they try, it will never be good enough to meet the national standards, set by those who have forgotten what it’s like to be a child.
Because of last year’s horrifically demanding year (work wise), I’m tying my upmost, to ensure that my class have a year 3 experience that is more exciting and one to remember. If only the government would stop trying to make it so difficult for me…