Creating little geniuses

In the early childhood setting the ages for thrusting academic outcomes on children are getting younger and younger

Children's Week is upon us once again. This year, organisers would like us to ponder on what it is that makes a good childhood. What is it to be a child? We talk about the rights and needs of children (as we should) but what does it truly mean to be a child once the basic needs of food, shelter and a safe environment are met?

This is a big question, and one that I think about a lot. As a mother, an educator and a social observer.

As a mother I believe that raising tolerant, thoughtful and well-adjusted children to be a priority. This is far more important than teaching children a win-at-all-cost attitude. So many parents try to force their children to overachieve because they want to live their lives vicariously through their offspring and make them brag worthy. ("My child can recite the full text of Othello - in Latin!") But how does this help your child navigate their way through life? I'm not mocking academia; I love big ideas and getting access to education is important. But it isn't the only thing that contributes to forming well-rounded children.

Back in the 1950s there was a "children should be seen and not heard" mentality. And it really wasn't too long before that when the children of early settlers worked in the gold fields picking over mullock heaps, with very little access to education or play. I can't deny that in terms of the rights of the child things have definitely improved. But how far is too far?

In the early childhood setting the ages for thrusting academic outcomes on children are getting younger and younger. And whilst children may be able to learn to write their own names, count and read a few words at the ages of three, four and five, this steep learning usually plateaus in about 2nd class. My personal belief is that children should have free play until the age of six and then they should commence formal schooling. The early childhood setting should be for cultivating a love of learning and socialisation, rather than predetermined learning outcomes. This isn't a popular view and one that certainly doesn't fit with parents obsessed with creating little geniuses.

We're told that it's best to listen to your children and allow them to contribute to decisions that affect them. This was unheard of only a few decades ago. But now I am going to throw the cat amongst the pigeons. What a load of twaddle!

Yes, I agree that it's important to communicate with your children and know what's happening in their lives. But sometimes it seems that children have all the power in this new deal, with a whole heap of rights without taking on any responsibility or accountability themselves.

Look at the classroom behaviours where children are brazen enough to fight, swear or play up in front of the teacher or other adults. It's a fine balance between children having rights and them ruling the roost. Where's the self-regulation, the social awareness of their place in society? Parents have a lot to answer for. Maybe it's because both parents work full time, or through guilt or fatigue, but many parents these days are more lax with discipline.

Children have the right to expect a safe living environment with healthy food and access to education. After this, I believe it's more important for them to develop a strong character and become a decent human being than turn into another little overachiever. Parents have the responsibility to provide these environments to children and the right to some respect in return.