The thing about this business of having babies, and bringing up small children, and being with them all the time, is that you have to be everything. An all-rounder, but with absolutely zilcho all-round training. You’re a cuddler, a feeder, and a playmate. You’re an arse-wiper, a 3am-vomit-cleaner, a bosser, and, of course, a teacher. A teacher of how to be a human being, really, and with (in my case) no teacher training at all. And although (in my case) there’s another parent who dips in and out and takes them away occasionally, and although there are playgroups and library singing times and the health visitor who pops in now and again with advice that makes you think she has never even met a child under the age of three before, you are for the most part being all those people alone.
For me that time at home with my kids was gorgeous, mind-numbing, rewarding, fucking thankless, joy-filled, lonely and HARD. At my lowest point, I was drowning and the kids were suffering for my madness. And if it hadn’t been for Chelwood Nursery School, I dunno but I think we might’ve all been sucked under.
Chelwood Nursery School, The Best Place Ever (says Pickle’s friend Finn, 5). Chelwood Nursery School, A Shining Oasis Of Sanity In The Lonely Marshes of Child-Rearing (says Vickolah, 41).
Chelwood is a maintained nursery school. It differs from other nurseries in that every class is led by a qualified teacher. The leadership team is formed of a qualified Head teacher, Deputy Head teacher and Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCo). Every staff member has specialist training and expertise in the development and learning of children from birth to 5.
Ziggler, 8, deep in the tedium of being tested on what an expanded noun phrase is, sighs and says, ‘At Chelwood, we could go anywhere. And we played all day.’ And they did. Outside, climbing, running, painting, whatever the weather. Inside, wherever they fancied. If you want a chat with Nikki, the head teacher, there’s every chance the minutes of your meeting will be pretend-taken by a three year old. The children think they are free and they are playing – and they are, but they are playing in a carefully constructed learning environment where their play is teaching them how to write, how things grow, how to read, how to love counting, what things do, what they don’t do, how to take risks.
Indi, 40, says, ‘As parents sometimes its hard not to get caught up in milestones and achievements. Chelwood’s gentle, experienced staff nurtured him and taught me to cherish every stage and have faith in the unique talents of my son. He started his year there with his head down, not communicating much to anyone outside of his immediate family. I will never forget his last day at Chelwood – parading round the garden with his carnival head dress on, surrounded by his friends and teachers – beaming!’
For me, it was all this – the rigorous pedagogy disguised as playing, the gentle staff, the freedom – and more. The community and the support. Yes, I was slowly going insane. But here was a place that valued my child and understood that we come as a package – the family is the child. And the child is the future.
I’m telling you all this because maintained nursery schools are under threat due to ‘Changes in funding’. You don’t need to be an economist to know what ‘changes in funding’ means. Cuts. 40 schools are expected to close by the end of July.
A place like Chelwood doesn’t just happen. Creating a world in which every single activity is fun and a valuable learning experience costs money. Try it yourself you’ll see where the money goes. Not just on cornflour and poster paint but on people who know what they’re doing.
Chelwood regularly invites its old students back for a play. They did it on Friday and they asked us to show our support for nursery schools by showing up and signing this petition. Vicky Foxcroft, lately the MP and currently the Labour candidate for Lewisham & Deptford was there. ‘Maintained Nurseries like Chelwood are at the heart of Local Communities,’ She said. ‘If re-elected I will fight to maintain them.’ I believed her. And, of course, Labour has promised to fund education properly if elected to government. Just saying.
If we allow these nurseries to close we are saying our little kids and their education, our struggling families, our communities, are not worth the taxes. Should nurseries be about educating children and opening their minds to learning or for stopping kids putting their fingers in electrical sockets while their parents go and earn enough money to support The Economy? Should we be supporting struggling families or allowing them to sink? Should we be giving all our kids a solid foundation or trusting our futures to the people who already have the money to buy their children the best start?
I know what I think. Please help.