Schools are terrible. Really terrible. Really.

I have been reading a lot lately about how terrible schools are, ranging from cartoons like this to articles like this. I went into my six-year-old daughter’s classroom today because she had to go to the doctor this morning (ear infection, you know how it is) and so I actually had a chance to observe them in action.

As I walked in, a paper dart flew past my head. It sailed over a tight corner which was crowded with a man I didn’t recognise – I think he might have been the autistic boy’s teacher aide – and a boy or two, discussing maths. Swiftly chasing the dart came Josh* and Aidan, both giggling. They picked it up and wandered off again, as I entered the main part of the room. There I spotted the teacher, Ms N, sitting on a low chair at the front of the room, with Bindi, Sofia and Anja (my daughter’s friends) sitting facing her on their own chairs. Ms N was taking notes as the girls explained some incident involving unkind behaviour by someone. My daughter was happy to be in the room and wanting to engage with her teacher and friends, but Ms N said that she would need to go and read a book for a few minutes. I relayed this to my daughter, explaining that Ms N was busy at the moment but would be free in a few minutes. Miss 6 skipped off to the book display behind her desk group to find something to read.

When Ms N had a moment I told her about the trip to the doctor. She stood up and put her head close to mine. “I sometimes think it would be easier if it were all boys!” she murmured. “They don’t get into all this… stuff.” Then she sat down to resume the court session.

The rest of the children were in small groups, or ones and twos, clustered around their desks and apparently cheerfully getting on with things. Some were standing, some were sitting. Some were chatting, some were quiet. It was a peaceful scene.

I mused on the contrast between what I had just seen and the popular image of schools portrayed in many articles on the Internet – children in rows, forced to sit down and shut up, to memorise and regurgitate mindlessly. Schools like these must indeed be terrible places of frustration and tyranny, where joy in learning is stamped out and individuality stifled in the name of classroom control.

The thing is, my school isn’t like that.

Maybe there’s something different about Ms N. And there is. She is recognised by my fellow parents and by other staff at the school as being exceptional in understanding the individual kids in her class, and fostering each child’s unique gifts.

Maybe there’s something different about this school. And there is. It is an Accredited School of the New Zealand Foundation for Character Education, and it places an extremely strong emphasis on strengths-based learning. It is the largest primary school in town. Kids from all over the world come here, meaning that my children are surrounded by a greater diversity of skin colours, accents and religions than you mostly find in this neck of NZ. It has an extraordinarily wide range of extra-curricular activities available (which we mostly don’t take advantage of because I don’t believe in overloading kids’ timetables).

So did we just happen to luck into one of the best schools with the best teachers, and that’s why our kids have loved school and learned heaps and made friends and come to understand themselves, their gifts and their challenges and the things that make them unique? Or do most schools do this, and is public opinion (as mediated by the internet) just lagging behind? … Or is it perhaps lagging geographically, and New Zealand schools are better than those archaic SAT-driven education factories in the US?

As I walked across the playground to leave, my almost-nine-year-old son and his classmates raced by me, training for the upcoming cross country. “Hi mum!” he yelled as he belted past.

My school is fine. So why do people think they’re so terrible?


*Names have been changed.


Awesome little movie

Awesome little movie

My son (known here as Mr 10) entered a short film competition at our church, with the awards ceremony last Saturday evening.  Their film, “Shrinking: The Movie” was nominated for six awards and won just one additional one … BEST PICTURE. You know, the supreme award. Because they were overall good at, like, everything.

He is 10, I said before, I think. One other film was made by high-schoolers and all the rest by university students and young adults.

And we won. 

Can you feel the glow of pride that’s still radiating?

We need your help now, though. There’s a people’s choice award, which we’d quite like to win as well. Please follow the link above, “like” the YouTube movie, and share it with all your friends. You won’t regret it! And you’ll make a bunch of kids very happy.

Thanks heaps. 🙂


A response to “When Your Child Hits Your Other Child”

A response to “When Your Child Hits Your Other Child”

I have a few questions about this approach.

Can you please provide some peer-reviewed evidence that this approach works long term? Short term? Is it a technique that will give you adorable teenagers but will necessitate you spending most afternoons with your child between the ages of 2 and 7 years old screaming in your arms?

What do you do when you don’t have an entire afternoon to spend helping your child regulate their emotions?

What do you do when your child’s perfectly understandable emotional reactions are distressing everybody around her and going home isn’t an option?

How do you keep your own emotions in check for long enough to deal with your child in this exhaustive manner? How long does it take to become perfect? Is it possible to be a perfectly emotionally controlled mother as well as study or work full-time? Is it possible to be a perfectly emotionally controlled mother and work three jobs to make ends meet? Is it possible to be a perfectly emotionally controlled mother and NOT work full time? Is is possible to maintain this kind of control all day, every day?

How do you cope when more than one child is going through a meltdown at once and you have to cook tea for everyone, or get everyone out the door to go to Nana’s house?

When you tell your child that you will never love anyone more than you love them, are you allowed to exclude your husband? (Given that evidence is increasingly showing that a healthy marital relationship is more important for your child’s well-being than great parenting techniques.)

What do you do when your children get so sick of you trying to talk about their feelings all the time that as soon as you start they shut down and just agree with everything you say, or reply “I dunno”, in the hopes that you’ll shut up and stop nagging them?

You’ll have spotted my agenda here. I have three children aged between 5 and 10 years old. I am studying for a Masters in Psychology. I have given my children time-outs, removed privileges, and other varying forms of discipline, as well as talking with them about their feelings and frequently letting them know how much I love them. My youngest, my daughter, sometimes tells me that when I send her into time out, or yell at her, that I hurt her feelings. I usually respond something along the lines of, “I’m sure I did. You made me angry when you did (x). It’s not very nice for either of us, is it?” All three of them are happy, intelligent and creative, have friends, do well at school, and mostly behave in socially acceptable ways. None of them thinks they are the centre of the universe – or even the centre of my universe, because they aren’t and they shouldn’t be. But they know themselves well and like themselves. And me. And that’s good enough for me.

I think the method of – well, not discipline… I don’t know what you’d call it! – that you’ve outlined here is unrealistic and unnecessary. I think it’s setting up a kind of ideal of a super-mother that most mothers will fail against, and goodness knows, we don’t need any more of those. I suggest that if you publish this comment, and anyone reading it agrees with me, that they go and look up Nigel Latta at for some real-life ideas.

Blessings, and good luck with your own kids.

I been workin’, and workin’, …

But I still got so terribly far to go-oo …

I’m finding it hard to keep up with everything. Four papers, a thesis to start planning, three kids, two music groups, and a house full of drying laundry. (Yes, you can sing it if you like.)

I’m starting to really enjoy my study. I’m doing an optional presentation on music therapy to my Health Psychology class on Friday morning. I’m going to borrow the musical instruments from kindy and run a practical exercise. I don’t think I’ll even get any credit for it, but I was enthusing to my supervisor about my past work tutoring music to adults with disabilities, and he asked if I’d like to do a presentation. Why not? I said. I don’t have anything else I need to be spending that time on…

I’m also singing in a Benjamin Britten concert on Monday evening. I’ve dropped off the church music roster for the next month as I have six assignments due in May.

And Mr 7 thinks I should coach his Futsal team. I have to say, I’m tempted. I think I could probably do a better job than the coach he had this term, who managed to hold two practice sessions in the whole term. The team lost every single match. Bit depressing. BUT in the fourth term, when Futsal starts up again (because the weather is too nice to play soccer … !?) I will have exams and my research proposal for my thesis due. I don’t think it’s going to work.

I keep thinking that next year I’ll have more free time because I’ll only be working on my thesis, not four extra papers as well. Am I kidding myself?

My best thing today was chatting over lunch for an hour and a half with my brother’s partner (sister-in-love? … seems a bit twee …). Best conversation I’ve ever had with her, as we’re usually surrounded by family and kids and stuff going on. She is awesome and the things we’re each studying intersect so we have lots of common ground.

And now I had better go to bed so that I can be on time for class tomorrow which is all about reminiscing with your children. This is one thing I think I have always done right with my kids. Nice when research backs up the way you do things anyway.

Nighty night.

Oooo, gender stereotyping!

We had boys’ night / girls’ night in our house tonight. Dad and the boys drove across town, picked up fish ‘n’ chips and took them to the park, where they ate them in the herb garden. Then Mr 9 wandered about picking herbs while Mr 7 and Dad played football, and then they all went for an explore. Miss 4 and I had pikelets and fruit salad for tea, served on a tablecloth on the living room floor with my best china – I even got the beautiful cups and saucers down from the display shelf above the sink – and then we baked biscuits, the kind where you cut out shapes.

I have no problem with some forms of gender stereotyping. Miss 4 refuses to wear trousers. (Tearfully: “Then no-one will know I’m a girl!”) The boys leap around the house roaring at each other and every game involves fighting in some form.

Here’s the question, the can of worms I like to open: Is there anything wrong with this?

Is it enough that I encourage all my kids to do whatever they want to do and treat everyone with respect? Or should I be making more of a stand against cultural norms and in favour of equality?

What does equality actually look like?

I grew up with my mum working and my dad staying at home with us, for a few years. He said to me that those days looking after my little brother were some of his happiest times. And yet, he has ended up feeling like his life has been wasted, that he is of no worth because he has never found a job that would allow him to be the provider.

How many women feel like that?

I went back to work after having children not because we needed the income, but because I hated being stuck at home with babies, who are (a) hard work and (b) boring. I was going crazy. I still feel a little guilty about this sometimes, though less than when I regularly faced Facebook posts and links from my homeschooling friends. I don’t like my kids enough to want to spend all my time with them. I suspect the feeling is mutual. Does that make me a worse person than the homeschoolers?

How many men feel like that?

(By the way, I don’t actually think I like anyone well enough to want to be with them 24/7. Sorry dear.)

What do you think?

Another step

I have christened my new desk in my new study at last, by sending emails from it to two lecturers in the Psychology Department whose research looks like it might be up my alley.

When I went into the room earlier this morning I found the following written on the A4 spiral-bound book I keep to the right of my keyboard for making lists of things to do:

MummY I
HoPe YoU HaVe
a HaPPY DaY.SinceLerLY [Mr 7]
Your Nice

He must have written it when he was in Time Out yesterday (for throwing a cushion at his sister and hitting her in the face), since the Time Out space is next to the study door. I went in and gave him a hug while he was still in bed this morning. When I told DH about it just now he got a little emotional.

Just goes to show, eh?

WHAT it goes to show, you tell me.