When Did Childhood Get So Busy? + Sunday Reflections Link Up

January 21, 2018

When Did Childhood Get So Busy?

As a Gen X-er, a child of the 70s, I remember having lots of free time to enjoy hobbies and play. When school was done for the day I went home, spent time with my animals (we had quite a menagerie at one point) and forgot all about spellings and fractions. The truth is, I had quite a tough time when I was in my last year of infant school. My teacher was unpleasant to say the least, and took a particular dislike to me and my stories about ponies. She used to hit me, and a few others she disliked, for minor transgressions and torment us mentally. For me that meant sitting facing the wall in a corner for the last few months of the year.

When Did Childhood Get So Busy?

Me and my best friend would spend hours messing about outdoors, setting obstacle courses and digging for treasure.

I was lucky enough to have a pony of my own (which she referred to as “wretched”) and he was a huge part of my life. Going home and forgetting all about school, doing as I pleased was the highlight of my day. I remember the feeling of dread on a Sunday, knowing that I had another week of misery ahead. Moving up to junior school after that was nothing short of joyous. Me and my best friend would spend hours messing about outdoors, setting obstacle courses and digging for treasure. I don’t think we ever had homework until we started secondary school aged 11. Even then the workload wasn’t onerous. How times have changed.

Isobel is now 8, and up until this year has loved school, despite having more homework than I did at that age. But lately she is feeling the pressure to keep up and it’s unsettling. There’s the weekly homework of either maths or English, spellings, reading and three sessions of maths online each week as a minimum. That’s on top of online spellings and times tables, and extra curricular guitar lessons, swimming lessons and street dance classes. It sometimes feels like I’m back at school again, having to re-learn things I’d forgotten in order to help her. Whatever happened to just going home and playing?

When did childhood get so busy?

Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s important to learn. I see so many examples of bad grammar and spelling, particularly on Facebook. Learning when to use there/their/they’re as children and other such grammar rules stands us in good stead for later in life. But does it have to take up so much “free time”? When did childhood get so busy? I worry that all this work stifles creativity.

You see, like me, Isobel is creative. She is also naturally good with words. Maths, not so much. We have the same achilles heel when it comes to learning. I’m not a pushy parent; I’ll help her all I can but if maths is just not her thing I’m not going to pile the pressure on. She’s an excellent writer, and often has her stories read out in class. Of course I want her to do well, but I don’t want her to get upset for not being brilliant at everything. Scaring the kids by telling them high school is super strict and they need to up their game doesn’t motivate them. Especially when that’s more than two years away. I’m not sure some teachers share my view. They have their own pressures to hit targets, and this filters down to the kids.

If teachers can’t engage with pupils and help them over the obstacles, how are the kids supposed to stay on track?

This year a new curriculum came into force for Isobel’s year, so a year six teacher moved down to year four to implement the changes. Her teacher is obviously under pressure to make sure targets are met. But behind those numbers are real children, each one of them different, with their own unique abilities. Some need more help and encouragement, not ultimatums. The carrot not the stick. If teachers can’t engage with pupils and help them over the obstacles, how are the kids supposed to stay on track? It’s the same for adults in the workplace: a bad boss doesn’t get the best out of their team.

Every time she feels an injustice has been meted out to her by a teacher I remember how it felt when I was that age.

On Friday Isobel came out of school quite upset. The reason? She, along with almost half the class, had been put on amber for not doing enough online maths. The school has a traffic lights system for behaviour, with amber being a warning and red for a second misdemeanour. The irony is we’re constantly being told to limit kids’ screen time, yet she’s been punished for not doing enough. I could probably count the number of times Isobel has been on amber since starting school on one hand. It’s a big deal for her. Every time she feels an injustice has been meted out to her by a teacher I remember how it felt when I was that age.

Children need space to be themselves, to express what’s in their hearts and what makes them happy.

I truly believe that we are all born with a personality, and while we’re shaped by events in our lives, some elements are there from the start and never disappear. I have always loved animals, and that’s never going to change. Children need space to be themselves, to express what’s in their hearts and what makes them happy. I’m 43 and I still need that! Learning isn’t just about numbers and grades. I didn’t have homework every night in junior school yet I can manage to string a sentence together and add up what I’ve spent on clothes each month 😉

I was an avid reader and often had my head in a book, there was no internet in those days after all.

It’s not that I wasn’t busy as a child, far from it; looking after a pony and various other pets took up a lot of my time. But I didn’t have the pressure of homework and SATs at Isobel’s age. I was an avid reader and often had my head in a book, there was no internet in those days after all. I certainly didn’t need to be told to read, so it felt like a pleasure rather than a chore. Learning at home was part of everyday life – I once challenged myself to memorise all the states of the USA and list them in alpabetical order! Maybe there’s a lesson there – when the pressure to learn is removed, learning becomes fun again.

I came across this interesting article recently that sums up why grades aren’t the be all and end all. A school principle sent a letter to parents of pupils, telling them not to stress too much over exams. In my experience having a good teacher who understands what makes each child tick makes all the difference. A one size fits all approach is bound to leave some lagging behind. My education left a lot to be desired, but it did leave me with plenty of free time to learn through play. I do wonder if, for all the improvements to the education system, this is being overlooked.

When Did Childhood Get So Busy?

Did you have the pressure piled on at school or do you have children that are going through it? Do you think children should have more free time to learn through play?

This is where I link up!


21 responses to “When Did Childhood Get So Busy? + Sunday Reflections Link Up”

  1. Suzy Turner says:

    I haven’t got kids so I’m not really the best person to comment but I’ve heard my neighbours talk about the same thing here in Portugal. It’s kind of a shame, isn’t it? That kids these days have such a different way of life?
    Suzy x

  2. Wow, Emma, such a great post. That principal’s letter actually brought tears to my eyes. I am very much like you in so many ways. I spent my childhood with my face in a book, playing outside, and perfecting my sport. I pursued so many different avenues of subjects in my educational career (and still pursue them when I can), and here I sit…a stay at home mom who writes a fashion and lifestyle blog…using none of my degrees yet using everything I learned in pursuit of all of them. It really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things other than learning to read and write and do basic math. What matters is finding our own voices and learning how to use them for good. I don’t push my children either. We get the homework done and pursue further only the things they are interested in. Because if they are not interested, they don’t give a hoot about learning it. Both of my sons (ages 4 and 6) are incredibly advanced at math and love the abstract concepts. So we do math things (as far as I can teach…they are actually getting advanced beyond my college math education…it’s kind of scary, really) and they both love science. So as a family, our nightly routine is to watch National Geographic type shows together. We keep it interesting and fun. It’s the best we can do without depriving them of their childhood!


    • Emma Peach says:

      It sounds like you have two very bright boys! You have to go with what they are naturally drawn to because like you say, if they’re not interested in a subject you can’t force it.

  3. That article is so amazing, Emma!!
    Every parent needs that because it’s amazing how we tend to look at scores as our worth…

  4. Laurie says:

    There is so much more pressure for children all around Emma. And then there’s the added pressure of social media. I think that’s even worse. xx

    • Emma Peach says:

      Definitely – I want to keep Isobel off social media for as long as possible. She’s been asking for a phone for a while now but we’ve said not until high school.

  5. Thank you for Link-up Emma.
    It ist very hard to be a child these days, I mean.
    XO Tina

    • Emma Peach says:

      It is in many ways. The benefits for today’s kids is that they can watch their TV programmes whenever they want. When I was a child there were only 3 TV stations and when cartoons finished there was no option of rewinding!

  6. I think this same thing all the time. I remember actually getting bored as a child, because I had so much free time. But, my kids are never bored these days… because, they have so much homework after school and they have to hurry to get it done, so that they can go off to their after school activities, then there is dinner and baths as well. We do limit my daughter to dance and my son to karate, but we used to have them in scouts and other things and it just got to be too much. I really hate the amount of homework, though. It sucks that they can’t just relax after school, they have to do more school work. Bleh! Sometimes it is hourS of homework, too!


    • Emma Peach says:

      It’s that fine balance isn’t it, between keeping them occupied and not overwhelming them. Some of Isobel’s friends do lots more after school activities but she just wants to come home and be with me, which is lovely. As an only child she looks to us for entertainment, but then again she’s good at playing by herself. I do have to nag her to do homework though, especially maths!

  7. Roxanne says:

    Children are under so much pressure! I must say, I had miles of pressure on me, but looking back I am never disappointed that I did so much or that I had teachers and family members who pushed me to do lots of things!

  8. Amanda M says:

    I love that you said this because I’ve been thinking it for a while now. My daughter is also 8 and we are coming to those same crossroads. I agree when you say, “All that work stifles creativity.” I’m afraid it does. My daughter is a very talented artist. She loves to draw all the time, but there is so much going on that she doesn’t get to just go into her head and draw as often as I know she wants too. I agree that learning is important but the priorities seemed to be placed in the wrong places these days. We learn so much on a daily basis just by experiencing life.

    • Emma Peach says:

      It’s such a shame when teachers don’t see the value in creativity. There’s so much pressure on teachers to achieve certain benchmarks, which then filters down to the pupils. Creativity can’t just be turned on and off, it needs time and space. Thank you for stopping by Amanda!

  9. When my girls were in grade school, they went to a Steiner School. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with this type of education, but it encouraged very little media (if any) and lots and lots of imaginative time outside. They didn’t have textbooks and made their own “main lesson books”. The school changed the lives of our family, as we had never been around the types of people who sent their children to the school. It made us more open to other ways of thinking and was a blessing to all of us. It definitely wasn’t perfect, and there was still social pressure from other children, but I think my girls were allowed to be children without so much pressure and develop their own creativity.
    I love the letter from the principal at the end of your post. I feel the exact same way. As long as your daughter learns to love and accept herself, she will be fine. It sounds like you have this “being a great mother thing” under complete control and that your daughter knows how much you care! That is a large part as well! My girls are 21, 25 and 31 and I couldn’t be more proud of them! I love your thought provoking posts! Keep them coming!

    • Emma Peach says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words Suzanne! Steiner schools sound really interesting – we have Montessori schools in the UK which I think have a similar approach to learning. There aren’t many though so it wasn’t an option for us. We try to make learning fun, even the “boring” stuff. I’m hoping that when Isobel moves up a year and has a different teacher she enjoys school again. Teachers make such a big difference.

  10. Amanda says:

    Oh my goodness, I hope things get less stressful for Isobel! I don’t have children of my own yet, but my younger brother and cousins go through very similar experiences in school, they are in middle school (8th grade) and the homework has been piling up for years now. It’s stressful for the children to keep up and even more stressful for the parents as they try to help, but the methods have all changed and what the children are learning about has become so much more advanced.

    My background is in early childhood education, and I have always been a strong advocate for giving children time to play.

    I am so happy to have found your blog through the Positive Practice Living Link Up, this has been a wonderful reminder to check in with my family to see how the workload has been recently.

    • Emma Peach says:

      Thank you for stopping by and for your lovely comment Amanda. I have booked an appointment with the headteacher to talk things through so hopefully that will help the situation xxx

  11. Fran says:

    Seems to be the same everywhere… here in Germany it`s all the same. I had 13 years until my university-entrance diploma. My daughters only have 12…. I am so happy that we have only one year at school ahead. Almost everyone over here does absolutely nothing apart from traveling the first year after school because it is the first time for twelve years they have free time and they need that time.
    Fran 🙂

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