My child is 7 and is already worried about being wrong


Tonight I told my 7 year old it was bedtime and he had one more day left before he returned to school. He sighed. I asked him what was wrong. Wasn’t he looking forward to seeing his friends? He said yes, but he was a bit tired of all the learning. We then had a conversation about tests and all the tests he was doing. He ended up telling me he felt a bit overwhelmed and anxious. I congratulated him on his impressive vocabulary. We had a lovely conversation about the fact that tests weren’t his teacher’s fault, they were policy, and he could add it onto his list of things he’d like to write to Rishi Sunak about (poverty, proper pay, and stuff for schools is on it so far.). We agreed that tests were hard and it was fine to be anxious. We also agreed that keeping your worries to yourself was not. He went to sleep with an action plan – to tell Mummy if he was worried and needed a chat/cuddle. To tell Daddy if he needed a joke and a wrestle.

Just before half term I was midway through a Speech Bubbles session. One little girl refused to join in an activity. I found out afterwards she’d been having a bad day. Her partner stood with her and told her, “it was ok, Speech Bubbles was a place to be happy.” At the time, I assessed that exchange as a celebration of the layers of communication it took – to read body language / emotion / listen / reassure. Tonight, I hear it again in my head about the weight of the word “be happy.”

I have also taken a group to task in an after school project about why they go so wild in our sessions and that we had all started to dread them. One said it was because school was so strict and intense. They were letting off steam because we were less strict. They also come to sessions and cry at a drop of a hat, or walk out and shut themselves in the toilet. Fortunately for us, we have time and space for those emotions. We aren’t under the pressure teachers are to jump through hoops – like make sure 7 year olds can join up handwriting, identify suffixes and prefixes and multiplications.

This is one reason why I think children cherish the arts and sports. They are an alternative form of intelligence that unfortunately don’t have the same value placed on them. Our slightly wild group actually became unified after 15 minutes of talking about feelings, behaviour, and identifying a structure to the session that recognised their need to decompress from school with their desire to act.

In 2006, Ken Robinson gave a TED talk “Do schools kill creativity?” He proposed we are educating people out of their creativity. When I listened to my own son tonight, I couldn’t help but agree. I also come to appreciate why he perhaps loves football so much right now. It makes him feel happy and confident. He finds the joy on the pitch that I remember feeling at 11 when my drama teacher invited me to step into a circle and improvise.

Ken Robinson’s speech was written 17 years ago but couldn’t be more relevant. I’ll provide the links at the end, but here are some quotes that stand out to me:

“…kids will take a chance. If they don’t know, they’ll have a go. Am I right? They’re not frightened of being wrong. I don’t mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. What we do know is, if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original — if you’re not prepared to be wrong. And by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity.”

“Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we strip-mine the earth: for a particular commodity. And for the future, it won’t serve us. We have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we’re educating our children.”

“…only way we’ll do it is by seeing our creative capacities for the richness they are and seeing our children for the hope that they are. And our task is to educate their whole being, so they can face this future. By the way — we may not see this future, but they will. And our job is to help them make something of it.”

My child is 7 and is already worried about being wrong. He knows what it means to be overwhelmed and anxious already because he has to do a test that has no bearing on his future. He wants to be a footballer because it feels easier than learning. The children in my after school project let off steam because their minds have been overworked all day trying to meet the demands of an overstuffed curriculum. The child in Speech Bubbles identifies a space to feel happy when other things have become too much.

I would throw it out there that our education system needs a rethink…

Interestingly, The Guardian published an article about the creativity crisis in schools. The erosion of arts in schools is so sadly very true. We have seen it in our work. We have also seen it in networks – where the drama network has been dissolved into literacy – or doesn’t exist because schools don’t have it on the curriculum. The idea that it is thriving in private schools sticks in the throat a little. Can we live in a society where money buys you an education that nurtures your whole being whilst children in state schools rely on the beliefs of their leadership teams to squeeze it into a bulging set of demands, the generosity or capacity of their PTAs to fund it?

When I became a parent, I had visions of making egg box constructions and writing stories for homework. Instead, I oversee worksheets to spot the incorrect full stops, capitals, suffixes, and prefixes. The irony is that I am not even going to proofread this blog. By the time you read it, it will have been sent to Lauren who will make me sound like I have a better grasp of grammar than I actually do. [Comment from Lauren: Louise is being very hard on herself!]

Until we have a government that is bold and brave enough to rethink education, we have children under 11 already reflecting on their relationship between learning and happiness. So it is perhaps another reason to support the teachers’ strikes. When they talk about excessive workload, our children feel it too.

Childhood only happens once.


Do schools kill creativity? | Sir Ken Robinson


The Guardian view on arts education: a creativity crisis

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