Life is full of ‘shoulds’. From what you should be eating and drinking to the exercise you should be getting; the deals you should be getting on your utilities or insurances, to the charities you should be donating to… Should, should , should. When you become a parent a whole new deluge of shoulds descends. Not only should you be doing this, that and the other to ensure that your offspring will grow up to be the next Einstein, Van Gogh, Beckham or Mozart but they should also be fitting into complicated schedules and hitting milestone after milestone.Schools seem to be ever-more dictated by what any given child of a certain age should be achieving in every area of the curriculum. This child should be adding 2-digit numbers, reading this list of words, using conjunctions in their writing, naming the planets in our solar system, marking European countries on a map, remembering who the key figures in Roman Britain were, mixing primary colours effectively, starting to compose basic tunes…. But who decides these ‘shoulds’, and how can one list be relevant and appropriate to all the thousands of children of that age with their huge diversity of interests and talents? Don’t get me wrong, I can see why a curriculum is needed in schools – they ensure that children are introduced to a breadth of topics and skills throughout their schooling. However I am opposed to the rigidity with which they must be adhered to and the emphasis on testing what the children should have learned.
When we started home education I had the idea that we would loosely follow the national curriculum even though it is not compulsory to do so. But to be honest, the girls had other ideas. There are just some things that hold no interest for them just now, no matter how I dress it up to draw them in. But it is the ‘just now’ that is important, who is to say they should be doing it this year, or next. Does it matter if they have no knowledge of the Romans until they are 11, or 15? Do they need to add 2-digit numbers or memorise times tables by Christmas? No, it has no relevance to them at this moment, so why should they spend time doing it now when they are far more interested in learning how to use a sewing machine, or light fires, or learn how to rollerblade? The girls are quite happily gaining a broad range of life skills and knowledge; not because anyone is telling them that they should, but because it has a relevance to them at this moment. Fractions and multiplying popped up the other day because they were needed for doubling a cake recipe, and hey, cake is pretty important to a seven year old.
So I have let go of of what my children should be learning. I did not foresee that it would start to spread to all aspects of our life though. When you start to question some ‘shoulds,’ you can’t help to question them all. Why should we have cereal for breakfast and icecream for pudding? What would happen if we just had what we fancied when we wanted it? Should we eat on a set time schedule of 3 meals a day, or just when we are hungry? By telling children what they should be eating, we automatically send them hankering after the ‘shouldn’ts’. It might seem strange to see a four year old eating raw broccoli at 10am, followed by icecream and a biscuit, pear and crisps at midday, an afternoon snack of peanut butter sandwiches, then ham, seeds and garlic bread before bed. But what’s wrong with it? Why should dessert follow a savoury main? Is order or timing that important if the diet over the course of a week is varied? I am learning to let go of these ‘shoulds’ too.
It continues to spread. Should a child be asleep at a certain time and woken at another if they have no specific time they need to be up for? If they have 10 or 11 hours sleep a night, does it matter when this happens? It seems wrong to wake a sleeping child just because someone thinks they should be awake at that time. I am beginning to see how good my children are at getting their needs met without being micromanaged by a grown up. They can choose when to sleep; what to eat; what to watch, play or find out about; or even what to wear given the weather outside, and all based on what they want and need, not on what someone thinks they should need. I can’t say it has been easy, but I certainly feel lighter without those pesky ‘shoulds’ weighing me down.