I’ve been a bit hesitant to write much in the blog about the child’s new start in his new school, scarred as I was by his last year. There were days then when it seemed he’d taken a few steps forward, and days when it seemed he’d taken a thousand back. We got used to the roller coaster of good days and bad, better days and worse days. It’s only now that I see that, in the last year, they were nearly all bad days. I knew he was unhappy and was losing his confidence but, until I saw him get it back, I had no idea how much.
Now he’s been at his new school a few weeks, I feel less tentative about talking about it and how, within the first two days, he was an entirely different child. It’s difficult to describe very accurately because it came from the very core of him. He was lighter. Happier. Confidence began to shine from him. He didn’t talk about school much, but when he did it was with pride. He talked about the friends he’d made and things he’d completed and the work he’d done and what he’d learned. The teacher commented on how much he loves learning and how engaged he is and how enthusiastic about everything he sets out to do.
When I think about the biggest difference in him, it’s that. He had become convinced he wasn’t very good at learning. And in his previous school, he wasn’t, because learning in the state system involves so much that he can’t do, because of his writing. He just couldn’t write as much as the others. Even though he’s an avid reader, a child who is interested in everything, a child who, as his teachers have said over and over, has it all there in his head, he just couldn’t keep up. So he came to think he couldn’t do it, any of it. He couldn’t understand that he could do so much, and that the writing would come, but it would come more slowly than it would for others. And it was pretty heartbreaking to watch.
In his new school, learning is very different, based as it is on a philosophy of children moving at their own pace and being intrinsically motivated to work, rather than managed to work. At the end of the first week, I dropped him off and went in and watched him start his day. He went straight to his work drawer, got out his work plan, decided what task he was going to do, and sat down to get on with it. No one had to tell him, ask him, or chivvy him. When I first went to the school, I saw with slight incredulity all these five and six years sitting working, incredibly intent and engaged, seemingly for no reason other than they wanted to do it, and I asked the question then: ‘what if he won’t do that?’ I envisioned all these other children hard at work, heads down, brows furrowed in concentration and our child, in the middle of such industry, day dreaming, doing nothing, or disrupting. I couldn’t imagine how, when in his previous school he had so often chosen not to work, he would choose to work here. But he does. He sat that day, the first to his table with his task, the model of industry. And he showed it to me with such joy, such pride, such confidence that his face shone and I had to bite back tears.
And since then it has continued in the same vein. I don’t know what it is that has made the difference. I don’t know if it’s the atmosphere in that room – so calm, so still, so industrious. I don’t know if it’s the multi sensory learning and the belief that children should develop at their own pace and learn to write when they’re ready. (He writes when he chooses to, and he does choose to, now. They, like me, believe the focus on so much writing, so young, is damaging) I don’t know if it’s the individualised, child led learning. I don’t know if it’s the lack of targets, the lack of pressure, the practice of teaching and learning subjects in depth (I’m continually taken aback by his new knowledge in geography and history in particular) before moving onto the next thing. I don’t know if it’s the lack of timetable – of refusing to rush children from one subject to the next even when they are totally absorbed in the first thing they were doing because the national curriculum demands it. I don’t know if it’s the forest school time, the huge open space they have at playtime, the swimming, the rota for clearing up after lunch, or the focus on independence and taking responsibility for themselves.
I don’t know what it is that has made the difference. And I don’t know if it will last. But I do know that we have a child who not three months ago cried in the mornings in real despair, who couldn’t ever see a way out of where he had found himself, who every day was part of a system that made him stressed and anxious and feel terrible about himself – and now everything is different. And I look at him now, our lovely boy, and see the confidence shining from him – the way he wakes up in the morning now and his first instinct is to smile – the way he looks up and catches my eye and beams at me – and it is worth everything.