Saturday, 12 September 2015

Round we go again....

This is H, aged 5, at his sports day many years ago. He's looking confused, and not a little distressed. You see he'd just run the 50m running "race" and won by a mile. Fastest boy in his year group. The day is forever etched into my memory - but not because of this great achievement. Let's face it this was in Reception, when at least half the year can barely coordinate themselves sufficiently to hurtle down the track let alone understand the point of it all.  No, the reason I will never forget the day was because of the comment made by the teacher running the event.

"Round you go again!" she said.

You see, his school didn't believe in competitive sports. Ever. "Everyone's a Winner" was the school's motto, and very commendable it sounded - if a little overly politically correct. But to put this ethos into context you should know that this little boy had never, ever been a "winner" in his life.

Non verbal until well past the age of three, he found school impossible to comprehend. He spent most of Reception under the table, a convenient place from which to lob heavy books at any passing teacher! With 46 fixed term exclusions to his name by the age of six school was not somewhere he shone. Rather he endured, they crisis managed and I cried. A lot.

So when my little Cygnet (as his class was known) raced down that track, completely engaged and utterly focussed on that finish line, I could have cheerfully strangled the insensitive, dismissive voice that expected him to keep re-running the absurd "race" until it was time to move on to the next activity.


There is a reason children participate in a huge variety of activities in school, beyond the academic, and it isn't just to give the teachers a break. Children learn in a huge variety of ways, and learning is never solely about reading and writing. Emotional and social education is a fundamental part of any child's education, and many children - particularly younger ones, gain most social and emotional learning from activities outside the classroom, in addition to the holistic environment they are in. My child had, at that moment, made an enormous breakthrough. He had been engaged in a group activity, focussed on a delayed result which required immediate engagement and participation, and appreciated the potential reward of any effort he made.

Which was swiftly taken away from him with that single sentence.

Unsurprisingly, the children who excel in the classroom are rarely those who are equally talented at sport. Or music, or art. All children are individuals with gifts, talents, difficulties and challenges as diverse as their faces. So denying children the opportunity to redress any imbalance within the classroom by removing competition outside, is misguided and potentially damaging.

So why am I telling you this now?

You may well ask. Two reasons really. H is nearly 14 and we've seen a complete turnaround over the years. Still hugely challenging at times, he now excels in the classroom, whilst the athletics track brings more of a challenge. Due to poor management of joint hypermobility and a huge delay in obtaining appropriate support he not only has completely flat feet but also something known as external tibial torsion. Basically his legs curve outwards below the knee, offsetting his entire skeleton and he simply cannot run fast anymore. Indeed, before he started wearing day splints, night splints and summer in casts to stretch his calf muscles last year, he could barely run at all.

The second reason for remembering this event is that we do seem to be "going round again" with the twins. Unable to play much sport because of health issues my youngest son is a gifted chorister. But no amount of persuasion could prompt his school to permit him to shine. Their obsession with group work and "equal opportunity" blinded them to his lack of opportunity in other areas. His singing gives him confidence and since joining our local church choir he is a different child.

Similarly, his twin is incredibly good at art. Whilst that might seem rather boastful, I can honestly tell you that she's really not much good at team games, struggles with Maths and finds friendships quite a challenge at times. Art is her "thing". But try convincing anyone that's it's ok to excel publicly and gain opportunities to work outside of a group and it's as if you've suddenly grown a second head.

H himself summed it up best after his enthusiastic and commendable participation in his High School Sports Day in July this year. He tried so hard and wasn't last but was quite thoughtful after. He hadn't forgotten that day eight years ago either.

"I was fast once, wasn't I Mummy? When it didn't count."

Except it did. It counted HUGELY for me. I observed and recognised every little achievement in those 50m and will never, ever forget that day. It's made me want to celebrate all goals reached, to recognise all my children's talents and appreciate where they are NOW, and let them feel good about themselves.  Because none of us are equal - and difference isn't a bad thing. That child winning the race may well be fighting battles you have no comprehension of - and deserves to be a winner, to come first. It might be the only time they do.

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  1. Aw this made me feel quite emotional. I feel really sad for that little boy who should have been cheered and clapped (I think) for coming first - although I realise you were there cheering him on. My children's school is very clear, some people will win, some won't and there will be some things you're better at than others. I personally think this is the best approach but at least your children have you as their personal cheerleader :)

  2. This made me feel emotional too. Sometimes we need to compensate for the weaknesses of schools. Children are all individuals and should be valued for who they are.

    I was really lucky growing up to have a grandma who was my cheerleader, and she helped make me the determined and tenacious person I am.

  3. It is amazing how school can either help you up or push you down. I don't quite understand the thinking behind the way they do things at times. x

  4. I'm nearly in tears here. My son has only been in school a week and a half and I'm already having sleepless nights. It's obvious his teacher has picked favourites and wouldn't let my son explain himself the other day in front on me.

    1. :( Can you speak with her? She might appreciate a chat too? Big things like school ethos are hard to change, but after such a short space of time hopefully his teacher will learn about your son and respond better? Hope things improve xxx

  5. It definitely counted. Bless him - whilst I like schools to be encouraging of all abilities they should also recognise achievement in whatever arena it is displayed in because doing well and pushing yourself all helps to build self esteem. The real world when the kids go out and get jobs is competitive- how on earth can our kids cope with that if they have been taught that its best to stick with the crowd and not push yourself forward. Your son was a winner then and is one now too.

  6. Oh bless things like that stay with a Mum forever don't they. I really believe in celebrating all of my kids achievements and I'll always be on the sideline at Sports Day cheering them on. Of course we can't all be brilliant at everything but everybody should be rewarded for their talents x

  7. Such a moving post, the biggest joy of parenting is being there for them on days like that and making them feel they can achieve anything x

  8. Awww such a moving story and I am sorry he had such an awful teacher. We are struggling with Isaac at times as he has a tendency to lash out at school when he doesn't want to do something. He came home proud as punch when he was out in the top group swimming yesterday

  9. AW reading this actually made me emotional. Such a moving post

  10. Of course it counted and the teacher shouldn't have been dismissive like that! Sorry you all had to have that negative experience but totally understand what you mean..sometimes the teachers don't always let the kids excel in what they are good at.

  11. Gosh school can be so hard. My 12 year has really gone through the mill too. I hate all the political correctness, with everyone being a winner, as it just means no-one is and like you say some kids (every kid) needs to feel a winner at least once. Mich x

  12. What a lot of hogwash school policies can be at times! I work in a school where we celebrate success, however small. We try not to set it against other children's achievements, if possible but every good homework, every good answer is acknowledged and praised. I am sorry your son was robbed of celebration when celebration was due, how very sad, especially put in context, as you ahve!xx

  13. Aww that is so sad! I think I wouldn't resist in telling my child that they did win but the teacher didnt want to upset the other children, in that situation. I am so lucky my kids school persuades kids to excel at whatever they enjoy and go above and beyond to help all the kids acheive what they want and they praise them for anything they exceed at x


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