By: Minty Long – Teacher, Framlingham College Prep School
When I had my first child, I was given a book called, ‘Your baby, day by day’. I loved it. As the long days stretched out at home with the daunting responsibility of keeping this baby alive until my husband came home, it let me know what they should be doing at each stage of their development, crossing their eyes, looking at sparkly objects, sleeping for 3 hours and 46 mins during the day etc etc. If my darling son didn’t reach these milestones at the correct time I would fret, but also I would make sure the sparkly object was put in front of him so he could eventually achieve the goal. Of course, the idea that all babies develop at the same rate is ludicrous, but having the milestones that they should be achieving at each age was a great guide and helped me to put the right strategies in place to get him where he needed to be. Time moves on, one (or maybe two) new children arrive and life settles into a (sort of) manageable routine where we can all get through the day unscathed. The books are now on the shelves, and the instruction manuals on what your children’s independent milestones are have suddenly disappeared and in all honesty what they need to do next to develop in line with their peers and prepare them for the next stage becomes a far less pressing concern.
A wake up call came to me when visiting my cousin, who has twins the same age as my son. They live in Yorkshire, so we don’t see them regularly but have biannual snapshots into their lives. This particular visit, to my shock, the twins had come on in leaps and bounds. They could put their own shoes and coat on, ride a bike, feed themselves with a knife and fork! My initial response was to moan to my husband about the ‘wonder children’ but I soon realised that I hadn’t been putting the strategies in place to help my son achieve what he too was capable of achieving. The realisation that I hadn’t been supporting him to achieve his next steps and that I wasn’t helping his development was heart breaking, even more so when I saw the longing in his eyes to ride the bike too!
So what did he need to be doing at his age? And where could I find these guidelines? There was (sadly) no ‘Your child, day by day’ book for this age group! What would the consequences be for my child if they didn’t progress with life skills and become more independent?
Independence is about our children learning to do things for themselves, which includes making decisions and taking responsibility. The various skills need to be age appropriate, but by slowly introducing more life skills we are preparing them for the next stage and ultimately for adulthood. As independence increases, a child’s confidence grows as they begin to see themselves as being capable.
This has huge benefits within the classroom, if children see themselves as able, it boosts their resilience and perseverance, both key attributes to learning. The more children are able to do for themselves outside of the classroom, like carrying bags, thinking about what they need to take to school each day, organising themselves to complete their prep, talking to the right teacher if they have a problem, dressing themselves etc, the more they benefit inside the classroom. If children don’t have to organise or think for themselves outside of the classroom, we are asking a lot of them to them to understand that inside the classroom, they need to do just that: think for themselves, be motivated, be engaged and work independently.
Here at Framlingham College Prep School, we believe that this process is a collaboration between home and school. To help the children achieve these age appropriate goals, to help with life skills and independence we have created the ‘I can’ targets. These are booklets, which set out specific targets for each year group. We hope they will give our children and parents a guide to achievable goals that will help them develop the skills they need to take them through to the next stage.
It is also a government initiative that is being rolled out across the country to help children experience new things and reach goals that will prepare them for life. So whilst it isn’t a ‘day by day’ book of what your child should be able to do, hopefully it is a guide to help the children move forward in the right direction and remind us of what our children are capable of, which can quite often surprise us.