Children Love to Learn, by Polly Cheer

Since qualifying as a teacher in 1994 I have learnt so much more about how children learn. Out of those 30 six year olds, there will be approx. 10-15 of them who can sit and listen and don’t really mind being passive. I was one of those children as a child. I was quite happy sitting and listening and then doing as I was told and completing whatever was handed to me. It’s the other 10-15 children who are visual learners, active learners who won’t learn in this way. Those children who need to move to learn, those children who need to create to learn, those children who need white noise to learn, those children who prefer to lie down and read a book, those children who learn best outside. Adults are the same, we all learn in different ways. Traditional mainstream schools don’t cater enough for alternative learning styles. One size does not fit all!

One of the recent educational buzzwords are ‘rights respecting schools’. Most schools in the UK have recently done some work on children’s rights and the UN Convention for the Rights of the Child.

Once the staff team have listened to some information about how to ensure we respect children more in schools, they then go back into their classes and ask the children. One example could be to make suggestions to the parent council about which playground equipment to buy. They might even ask the children to design their own playgrounds and draw a picture of their ideas. Are any of the children’s ideas used when purchasing playground equipment, probably not!

Are schools supposed to prepare us for being in the ‘real’ world? Yes. Is the real world a democracy where we can vote in various meetings and committees to make changes as adults? Yes.  Are schools democratic? No.

If schools were truly democratic then what the children suggest would be listened to and acted upon. My daughter is her class representative in high school, year 7, for the pupil council. It is now June. Since September she hasn’t been invited to attend any meetings to discuss her views.

Our schools are, generally (apart from a handful of democratic schools across the UK) completely out of date with ‘the real world’

Our biggest creative industries want people to leave school who can think outside the box, who can be creative, who can problem solve and take risks. They don’t want ‘yes men’, they don’t just want young people who follow the crowd like sheep, they want young people who aren’t afraid of being different. They want young people who are confident at communicating verbally, and negotiating, as well as being able to write reports, they want young people who aren’t afraid to make changes and do things differently. They also want young people who can use the most up to date technology.

Our schools generally aren’t preparing our children for this world. They are still preparing them for a world about 100 years ago!

A Manifesto of Changes for the Education System in the UK:

  • All Children are truly respected.
  • All learning is based on the interests of the child.
  • There are no exams until after the age of 14, and continuous assessment instead of exams for some pupils.
  • There is no National Curriculum. Instead teachers are taught to guide children’s own interests.
  • All age groups share the same space.
  • There is always access to the outdoor classroom for all ages and teachers who are based outdoors.
  • Parents can walk into schools anytime and join in.
  • There are communal areas which look like restaurants where young people and teachers and parents can all eat together. Young people can also grow and cook the food.
  • All materials used by children are real items. Eg. Real pots and pans, real tools, real artists equipment, real cars, real animals etc.
  • There is no uniform, there is just clothing for certain activities. Eg. Aprons when cooking, outdoor waterproof suits, boiler suits for working with cars etc.
  • Teachers are called by their Christian names.
  • There are various meetings to discuss proposed projects, either 1:1, small or large groups depending on the size of the project and the needs of the children.
  • All existing schools remove all displays from the walls and redesign the spaces to create ‘workshops’. Eg. Meeting rooms, Art spaces, Computing spaces, Design spaces, Construction spaces, Laboratory spaces etc.

This is an excerpt from the soon to be published book, Children Love to Learn, by Polly Cheer.