‘One Size Does Not Fit All' – Educating Each Unique Child

Learning Through Play
Learning Through Play

My eldest child started school recently and it has been a time of great change and transition. For the most part he has taken to it like a ‘duck to water’ but there have been some issues about the exuberance and vigour with which he approaches play.

He is a sportsman, a gymnast and a martial artist. He doesn’t yet understand that learning occurs at and is often confined to a table or fixed work space. He is tactile and he processes sensory information in the same way many 5 year olds do, through his body. He is a talker and deep thinker who chooses to express himself in a way that is often frowned upon in the ‘classroom’.

I work in Children’s Occupational Therapy and see many children in a school environment. I have often worried that the ‘one size fits all’ approach to education in the UK may marginalise our child and that we as parents must do everything in our power to ensure that if this occurs, he continues to be valued and supported by us, his parents and the holistic education we provide him at home. Structured education and in particular, the fulfilment of the National Curriculum does not suit each and every child so how then do we ensure that we provide appropriate teaching for our ‘unique child’?

We live in a time where we are encouraged to lead our children down a road of hard academia instead of ‘down the rabbit hole’ on a journey of discovery. It is believed that this way our children will find a more credible career path that will lead not only to success but also great wealth and status.

It has been reported recently that there has been a drop in children seeking courses in the more creative ‘humanities’ and that those moving into higher and further education are tending towards careers that offer financial stability, not artistic and creative endeavour. It is not hard to see who may be driving this trend.

Whilst a parent’s wishes and desires are valid, I can’t help wondering that they seem to take precedence over those of the child. It would appear that over-zealous caregivers are hell bent on assuring that they future proof the lives and financial security of their offspring.

This attitude is not only held by pushy parents. Where there should be a more balanced approach to the world of work, the competitive office environment insists that ‘more is more’. More hours, more miles and more pennies in the pot and it’s a mind set that threatens to erode the importance of discovery and imagination in the young.

It’s important to remember that modern learning outcomes are not primarily concerned with the educational welfare of the individual child. The principal purpose of National Curriculum testing is for school league tables. That a child should be encouraged to engage in an ever expanding curriculum is as much about ‘bums on seats’ as it is about unique learning needs.

Sadly not everyone is in a position financially or otherwise to un-school or home school their children. It’s also important to remember that school does offer a unique social network that cannot always be replicated at home. However, that said it may well be time for us to reclaim our role as ‘teacher’ and begin to value our part in providing additional education at home. We guide and we educate about the important things in life, the things that really matter. We know our own children better than anyone. We have responded to their needs since they were born.

In her book ‘How Mothers Love and How Relationships Are Born’, Naomi Stadlen says, ‘Children don’t learn only through ‘educational’ activities. Ordinary life is full of education’ (Stadlen, 2011)

The educational opportunities that present in everyday life are surely beyond statistical measure. So what then is success and how do we know if our child is successful? Is it a term that is concerned only with educational attainment and the disposable income a child or young adult achieves? Can a child not possess other attributes and transferable skills that will ensure they are a success?

If working for a FTSE100 company is a measure of success then surely we are denying those who have other skills to give, to society, to the environment and to the generations of children to come. We have a duty to ensure that education is inclusive, concerned with welfare and happiness, that each and every child is allowed to take an active part.

Educational league tables should be either abolished all together or made to be more transparent, concerned with the wealth of life skills and attributes that our children possess. We should be presenting these ‘results’ in a qualitative way, placing emphasis on the ‘voice’ of each and every child where they are encouraged to explore and discuss not only their strengths but also the areas in which they feel they require more support.

Personally and as a parent, I understand that our child may well be one of the many who achieves in different ways. He will be encouraged to ‘dream big’ and we will allow him to choose his path, supporting him every step of the way. We will not however be orchestrating his journey, merely overseeing it.

Having spoken to a retired school teacher recently, I took the opportunity to ask what we as parents could provide our child to support his schooling. Her answer surprised me but has resonated ever since. Manners are the most important thing you can insist upon with your child. If your child has good manners and displays respectful behaviour when interacting with their peers, they will succeed in school and in life.

Whilst we continue to love and care for our child, responding to his ever changing needs, he will not suffer educational injustice. Our child will realise his hopes and desires as long as we understand and fulfil our role as ‘teacher’ at home.