First Children Webmag Seminar

Well, it’s happened and it wasn’t at all bad for a first one.The seminar had as its working question: Where is Childhood Going?

A small number of professionals managed to find their way to the University of Northampton campus despite traffic, road works and no one else on the campus having a clue where the Knowledge Exchange was situated!

Professor Denise Hevey was supposed to have been the keynote speaker, but was forced to cancel at the last minute due to family bereavement. Maureen O’Hagan and I stepped into the breach and we both prepared and presented short papers on childhood. (Both of the papers are in the magazine).

The discussions that followed allowed everyone to air their views in a robust manner. There were many opinions passed and a few solutions offered.

Parents

In particular, there was concern for parents. Many of today’s parents have never observed parenting themselves, other than their own memories of childhood, and the traditional teaching of a hundred years ago has gone out of the window.

Yet parents often feel that perfection is expected of them, and the desire to help their children get the best out of life drives them on to involve their offspring in an exhausting programme of homework and leisure activities. Others feel deskilled and want to be told what to do, blaming “them” if no authority gives them the right support or instructions. Yet others want to relive their childhood as “kiddles”, being their children’s friends, rather than responsible adults. Finally, there are the apathetic, anti-authority parents. All these groups may pass on their attitudes to their children.

Community

Some parents seem to feel beleaguered in their homes, unable to trust any outsiders to care for their children, accompanying them on even the shortest journeys, and depriving them of the opportunity to learn to cope with risk. There is the well-known saying that the upbringing of children is a matter for the whole village, not just the parents, but in today’s culture, each family risks remaining in its own little box, unlinked to the wider community. Other members of the community fear intervening, whether to ensure a child’s safety or to modify anti-social behaviour, for fear of being labelled nosey, interfering or having improper interests in children.

Schools

Concern was expressed about the increasingly early starting age for school, especially in contrast with other European countries, and about excessive testing and the anxiety it causes. It was argued that children’s learning – and interest in learning – was actually being blocked by the Government’s targets and testing, partly because of the stress caused to students and teachers alike. Out of school, children need more time to play, it was suggested.

These notes offer just a flavour of some of the discussion, to which everyone present contributed, and which helped open a few windows, to let in fresh ideas.

What Next?

The success of an event depends on whether it is likely to be held again. I would certainly wish for a second seminar, possibly in the New Year and possibly at a more convenient time for everyone.

If you have any suggestions for the subject of the second seminar or wish to attend, please let me or one of the other Webmag regulars know.

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