Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The BBC reports on a report from Whistleblower about nurseries, which dovetails nicely with my earlier posting about a woman who couldn't understand why friends thought she shouldn't put her five month old baby into a nursery in order to go back to work full time.

The shocking news that children are not well looked after in many of the nurseries around the country is not news. Even if you had the best nursery nurses in the country, a one to 13 ratio between the nursery nurses and babies makes it impossible for them to do anything but crisis control. They can't look after the babies properly.

Any parent knows that it can be a full time job to look after one baby properly and meet their needs. The idea that one person can do that for 13 babies is laughable. All over the country, in nurseries good and bad, children are lacking stimulation, lying in wet and dirty nappies.

My Quaker meeting in Uxbridge leases out the old building to a nursery during the week, and many of the older members regard this as tantamount to a social service. It's a dark building with high windows though. I would not have left any of my children there. I don't know whether the people there are good, bad or indifferent nursery nurses, but the building is totally unsuitable as a nursery. If the OFSTED inspectors were doing what the general public expect that they should, they'd have closed it down.

As a society, children have a low priority for many people, and our society's Victorian attitude that children ought to be quiet and not disrupt life for the adults is pervading everywhere. Mothers are being made to feel that they are odd or even destructive if they want to be with their children and particularly if they wish not to work in order to care for their children.

It's astonishing to me that there are not more tragedies involving children in nurseries. The biggest tragedy though will not emerge for some years, when these children become parents themselves and begin to inflict what happened to them on their own babies.

In a rich country like the UK, we have the opportunity to be giving our children a much richer childhood than their ancestors experienced. Instead, we are giving them money and things bought at the expensive of shoving them into nurseries as babies and schools to be tested to destruction throughout their childhoods. It's nuts.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Bought the Grauniad for the first time in a long time. Found my blood pressure rising: funny how that doesn't happen with the online versions of the newspapers... I supposed that if I come across a view I don't have time for I tend to flee to another page rather than allowing my feelings to build up.

There were two stories that particularly caught my attention... the first was about the lack of parental choice for schools. It's not that I disagree particularly with what is written in the article, it's just that I think it is so shortsighted to think about education in terms of schools nowadays. With the advent of 3D worlds anything is possible - you can make education enjoyable and entertaining, personalise it, engage pupils in it. People of all ages are continually learning and the old fashioned idea of schools as places where children go for six hours a day, which stand idle for the other 18 hours, is such an old fashioned and wasteful idea.

I'd like to see learning centres which can be used by everyone... money going into facilitators for education instead of teachers in the old fashioned sense... children given choices and the chance to do art -- or music -- or mechanics -- or dance all day every day if they want to. individualised, personalised education which can teach children the things they need to know... which isn't a lot of facts and figures, but skills and the use of their curiosity. I truly believe that we are going to think that schools are SO 20th, or even 19th century.

A letter was responsible for my rising blood pressure really. In it a woman says that she is going back to work full time and putting her baby into a workplace nursery and she cannot understand why friends are shocked that she isn't working part time instead.

For a long time I have lived by the premise that we can't tell other people what it is right to do, and I stand by that. I don't wish to tell this woman that she ought not to be putting her child in a nursery and going back to work. Hell, for all I know she might turn into a baby battering horror mother if she didn't go back to work. But not telling other people what to do doesn't mean that I don't have an opinion. My opinion is that if you are all right with dropping your precious baby into the hands of strangers, in a place where he will not get one-to-one care (or even one to two or one to three in all likelihood) then you are not properly bonded with your baby.

It's an unfashionable thing to say, and it conflicts with the idea of having an open mind about such things. But honestly, I DON'T have an open mind about childcare. My minds is made up. Children need a dedicated parent to look after them, especially in the first year. They ought to have their needs met by someone who loves them, not someone who is paid to look after them. I feel angry that government tries to convince parents that it is not just ok but a positive thing to leave your children in the care of others. It isn't.

There is good research available that also shows that later, when children are three or four years old, they do better in more or less every way if they spend their time with a dedicated adult who loves them than in an institution, no matter how good, or how well funded a facility. Two researchers some time ago set out to show how positive nurseries were for children aged four. They studied children in nurseries and those who stayed at home with their mothers and expected to show that the children in nurseries had an academic advantage and a social advantage over the others. In fact, they proved the reverse.

Communication in the home is usually two way, and parent make an effort to put things into context for children, referring to things they have done, or things they have shared in an attempt to give what they are talking about context. Children ask questions, and receive most of the information in the form of conversation.

In schools, children tend to restrict their questions to practical things: Where are the scissors? Can I go to the bathroom? Can I use the paintbrushes? One of the first things they learn in a group environment is that it isn't always safe to ask questions, and they learn that pretty damn fast. Often, even when questions are appropriate they find it hard to speak up.

People, particularly those in the pay of the government, talking of children being independent, as though it were possible to force independence on them before they are ready. You can't. I think the growing incidence of selective mutism in schools which I have noticed through the rising number of questions asked on mailing lists and noticeboards is a marker of the discomfort that many children feel on being forced into a formal learning institution much too early - in most cases nowadays nursery is beginning at 3 and school is beginning at 4 in the UK.

I think that our society is paying a price for poor advice to parents. This can only get worse.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

I have always like the clothes made by 1647, which is a mail order company which caters for women of goddess proportions. It was there that I turned to when I needed some special clothes for a presentation a few months ago, when my sister generously offered to pay for them.

I will admit that we may have made life confusing for them, because although my sister signed up for and paid for the clothes, I was the one with the account and the email. However, the clothes didn't come and didn't come, I gave up and bought some elsewhere, and when the clothes eventually appeared, I refused to take delivery of them, knowing that I would be returning them all.

That was when the fun really started. Although the company accepted the return and credited my sister with the money, as they had charged her twice for the clothes they sent, the net effect was a charge on her credit card for the total amount. Emails passing to and from the company didn't help... they just stated and restated that they had provided a refund for the money. Obviously, no one could be bothered to look at the actual information and just checked the one transaction all the time.

I become so desperate to have them treat me like a real sentient human being and not like an idiot, that i even resorted to emailing Dawn French's agent, Dawn French being one of the owners of 1647. I knew it wasn't appropriate, but by that stage I didn't care, I just wanted to get my sister the money back for the clothing I hadn't seen and hadn't had.

My sister got to the point where she had to put it in the hands of her credit card company, and eventually she got a full refund for both transactions. I didn't get a whisper of an apology, and neither did she. In fact the tone throughout was that we were a nuisance.

The episode was over and I let it go, but was somewhat astomished when, as few months later, 1647 contacted me with an email to tell me that they had set me up a new account to coincide with the opening of their new shiny website. I didn't want an account with their new shiny website because, although I hanker after their clothing, I don't trust the company, and so I wrote unsubscribing. And wrote and demanded and then eventually contacted their host company to complain. The nice young man there unsubscribed and said that the problem was that the name of the account on the 1647 mailing list was my sister's name and not mine, and so they had therefore ignored my instructions to remove my email address from the list.

I felt much more antagonistic towards them, but I let it go. But now... now I am receiving spam email addressed to my sister. And the ONLY people who have her name attached to my email is 1647. Obviously, they have sold my details on. And I am not happy about that, not at ALL.

So, love the clothes, hate the company. You've been warned.