Four years ago I gave up a career of twenty years. For twenty years I’d relentlessly educated. I’d spent Sunday night’s wishing I’d not left my planning for the week till 6pm. I had assessed. I had created. I had problem solved. I had innovated. All to ensure the children in my care achieved.
Then along came my son. My world. My purpose in life.
How could I continue giving so much energy to other people’s children when I had waited so long to have my own? Those children deserved 100% and no less. And hand on heart, my priorities and my passion now lay with my mini-me.
With a heavy heart, I waved goodbye to being called ‘Miss;’ to assessment without levels; to rapid improvement plans; to Ofsted and to rigorous monitoring of standards.
I embraced ‘Sing and Sign’, pram group, adventures to London, play dates, forest walks… And I loved it! Far from an early years specialist (I was trained 7-11 in Primary), it was a steep learning curve but one where I always had a relaxed approach to milestones. I was never concerned about when first steps came, when first words were garbled, when he could pull off a two-footed jump. I was just happy having fun, talking and experiencing.
Then lockdown hit.
Well that curtailed our expeditions! Overnight we were barred from the outside world. So the adventures had to be created and designed. My inner-teacher pounced on the play tray, preparing everything from beach scenes featuring Bing to space aliens and rockets. I was inspired by so many amazing accounts on Instagram (Lindsey, Molly, Emma, Becki, Jenny and Ayesha to name but a few) who awakened a latent passion for early years provision in me. These experts in the Foundation Stage reinforced the importance of messy play and of sensory experiences. And day after day, I got my ‘create’ on with everything from chalk pens to bog roll inserts. Storytelling. Painting. Water play. Sand. Puzzles. Wooden toys in abundance. Bookish play… We did it all.
And lockdown rolled on.
But then the world began to open up again. We were suddenly free to venture in to pastures familiar: The Tate Modern, soft play, museums, groups. Preschool now punctuated our week. And this is where the guilt kicks in.
I lost my mojo.
I had quit my career in education to give my little man my energy – all of it. And somehow, I had developed an inertia. For an entire summer we went out and explored and adventured, but once home – it was like every ounce of my creativity was used up. I had no enthusiasm for enticing him with trays of plenty. The odd moment of motivation hit me but generally I defaulted to his desire to play with his trains, play games on his iPad and watch television.
I won’t get this time back. He’s started school with little knowledge of phonics. He can count, but not write numbers. And despite my heartfelt protests of “I don’t want to push him, he will do it when he’s ready,” there’s a niggle of “could I have done more?” I’m a teacher for heaven’s sake. If I can’t engage him in letters and sounds what hope does he have?
But I know there’s plenty of hope. Because despite the lack of food-coloured foam, the distinct absence of egg cartons and PVA and the gaping hole where there could have been coloured rice, we have talked. We have talked and observed and engaged and and read stories and played. And that is enough. It could have been more, but it was enough.
When they are tiny, you are so consumed with phases. Teething. Weaning. Crawling. I need to cut myself some slack. It’s only now we are getting through it that I realise this has been the most emotionally draining phase yet. My priority in preparing him for school was not so much pencil grip and number bonds. It was coping with the relentless toilet issues. Where I should have been helping him recognise his name, I was battling the GP for laxatives; begging for referrals; updating sticker charts; trying to fill him to the brim with water and sneak fibre in to every conceivable snack and meal. It’s not an excuse but it is our reality – and it wore me down.
Now here’s the irony. I have lost him to the school system. Our days of freedom are now limited. So why is it, I’ve decided that right now would be a great time to ignite the pilot light on my creative boiler? In the last two weeks I’ve prepped more than in the last two months. We’ve enjoyed autumnal painting; snail homes, digging in sand and spooky mazes. And this is all on top of his flashcards ‘home-learning’ and reading books.
We’ve turned the page on a new chapter this month. To me, September has always been my new year, my time for reflection. My report card for the summer may read ‘could’ve done better’ but it also reads “well done on some amazing opportunities for learning”. So this term: here’s to plenty of child-led train play, a healthy smattering of Youtube and mummy chucking in the odd invitation to play (when he’s not too tired).