Last week, when I was back in my hometown and staying at my parents' house, I walked past my 14 year old daughter's former nursery. Laughter and happy chatter assailed me as I walked past the high brick wall and wrought iron gates. I couldn't resist peering in.
Inside, in the paved compound, about eight pre-school children were charging round energetically on a variety of mini transports, making a lot of noise. A young teacher valiantly managed his boisterous little charges as they zoomed round him boisterously in a sea of toy cars and toy trucks. He almost had his feet run over on several occasions by little wheels. It was a happy scene, what every childhood should be, despite this being in a school setting.
I was compelled to ring the doorbell to connect with this place once more.
For it was a happy place, and one that played a big role in G's life. My niece Katie attended this nursery ,too, so we have a lovely sense of history within the warm brick walls. G was one when I moved back to my hometown. I was suffering from cervical cancer, and I had four other young children. I moved home with three of my youngest children. Moving home to a house within a stone's throw from my parents' seemed a logical decision, and it was. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
My children thrived despite my illness. We lived in a peaceful house not far from the sea, and within walking distance to my parents' and brother's houses. Every morning, we would walk to school together. Though it was physically and emotionally exhausting for me to be a single mother throughout the week, it was a happy time for us all.
Though I would have preferred to keep G at home with me - I do not believe in children starting school too early, because I believe strongly that home is the best place for them to learn - I had to send her away for a few hours each day in order for me to get some rest and to get my household in order.
G loved her little nursery. Storytime is run by Mrs. Janet Storey, who was a calm, strong presence in the nursery in G's time. I was delighted to see Mrs. Storey still at the helm almost ten years later. One could immediately sense that she tolerates no nonsense, but there is an air of fair play and serenity about her.
Storytime Nursery was exactly how I remembered it to be. The classrooms were furnished like a home that is composed solely of activity-filled playrooms. Little touches of home are all abound, from the childish drawings tacked to the wall to misshapen clay statues to ornaments and toys. There was lots of artwork going on in this nursery, with chubby fingers pasting leaves or bits of coloured paper, creations that will be hung up on the walls to give it a colourful, homely ambience.
G used to love these art sessions, though she does not excel in the subject these days except when it comes to tribal war paint on her face and body before big athletic events that she is nervous about. Or designing my next tattoo. This is the extent of her artistic activity, despite the many hours spent cultivating it.
She couldn't read when she left the nursery at five. In fact, she couldn't read until she was ten. And I am eternally grateful to Mrs. Storey and her staff for not forcing her. You hear horror stories these days about competitive primary schools that expect five years olds to do written entrance exams.
"H is not for hamster," G used to say stubbornly when shown the alphabet card hanging on the wall. "And that's not a hamster, that's a guinea pig!"
She was right, of course, because her father who is from South East London pronounced hamster as 'amstah. Dear Mrs. Storey devoted her time teaching elocution, getting her collection of Portsmouth oiks and my Cockney child (as well as the well-spoken ones) to say "hot water" in three syllables instead of 'or woer. I am pleased to report that in this endeavor of hers, Mrs. Storey had been successful: G is often complimented on her elocution. Here's a short clip of her at five: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8RFONbabE6A
Though I am not an educator, I am a believer (from personal experience as a mother of four grown-up children) that the ability to speak well, charisma, charm and a touch of boldness should be included in every child's success toolkit. Sausage-factory education seems to be churning out bland, personality-less exam-taking machine that one begins to wonder, "What is the purpose of education?"
There is this famous Jesuit saying: "Give me a child for his first seven years and I'll give you the man."
There is no doubt that this little nursery had shaped my child in a beautiful, unusual way. She is physically confident, she speaks very well and she has an unbridled sense of curiosity about the world around her. Though she is not academic by nature (homework is done on the bed in the shortest time frame possible), she has great enthusiasm for learning new things. She speaks four languages, she is in the top set at school for all her subjects, she plays sports at international levels and she has won many trophies. I strongly believe that she is able to develop in this direction, because she was not forced to read and rote-learn things that should only come later in a child's life. Indeed, she spent those precious early years growing other aspects of her being. A more focused nursery would not have the time or the space to allow her this sweet, beautiful exploration and organic growth.
In parting, Mrs. Storey said to me, "We cannot make children into who they are not. We can only help them find beauty in themselves."
And dear Mrs. Storey, you have indeed helped my child find hers. Thank you. This is the happy, strong, confident, creative and fearless young woman you have helped nurture during her formative years. G: a force to be reckoned with.
First published in www.raisinghappystrongkids.com