The idea of childhood is a difficult thing to get a handle on. By the time we’re fully ready to reflect upon it, it’s sailed from our grasp. We can no longer fully understand what it’s like to be in a baby’s position, a toddler’s, a primary school child's and so on.
A long time ago, whilst training to be a teacher, I was given a wonderful piece of advice about the setting up of a classroom. It was suggested that once I’d arranged my room, set it to my taste and with consideration of every conceivable practical aspect, I should get into the middle of the room, kneel down and see how it looked then.
Losing a couple of feet at least gives you a child’s eye view and reminds you of the differences.
Yesterday I was lucky enough to spend my afternoon finding out about ‘The Place2Be’.
Initiatives in education come into our lives like raindrops in a storm– impossible to avoid and in huge quantity. The trick is to filter out those that have potential from those that clearly don’t.
‘The Place2Be’ seems to offer more potential than anything else I’ve seen for a while.
The concept is very simple - youngsters need looking after.
Our children come from a huge range of backgrounds and experiences. They’ll assimilate the world in very different ways. Some will thrive and some won’t.
As parents, we all get things wrong from time to time. It's impossible not to and stems from the imperfections we all carry. Finding the tightrope thin line between the best and worst ways to act is difficult. We can care too much or not enough, be too firm or too lax, employ the wrong instincts, come home after a difficult day and turn away, mess up on the work/life balance...the list is endless. It doesn't make us bad people, just human, but like all things, some of us will get things more wrong than others.
It’s not all fairy stories and happy endings out there as we know too well, and the darker characters of giants, ogres, witches, dragons and pantomime baddies lurk in abundance alongside the fairies, princes and princesses. We can find all of them inside ourselves. For some, the darker elements are easier to control. For others, well, sometimes the demons win out and sometimes those demons will shatter the young.
Many children arrive at school having been through experiences that would tax anyone.
Whatever it is, even at the level of missing breakfast again, or having stayed up too late to watch a movie containing super violence, a child who is not ready to learn is not going to find enjoying their school day easy.
Tag on literacy difficulties, dyscalculia, language issues etc, and school becomes a place of ambiguities – sanctuary on the one hand, overly-demanding and hostile on the other.
As our main role-models are provided within the family and as many of our experiences come from there also, a challenging home life may lead to challenging behaviours.
It's not enough to condemn young people for what they do, make them pariahs because of the way they act out. It's our duty to see it from all angles, to offer support and care and understanding. Sure, it's not easy to do, but do it we must.
‘Place2Be’ brings together committed professionals from therapeutic backgrounds and offers children and young people a chance to be themselves in a totally safe environment. They can build relationships in a trusted setting with their mentors and explore their feelings in a way that will relieve some of life’s pressures and repair some of the emotional damage that an adult world will inevitably cause at some level.
Individuals are offered regular support on a weekly basis for a whole year.
Others may take part in groups.
Some may receive short blocks of support and then move on.
But it’s not just a minority of pupils who can benefit. The whole school can access the programme in the form of its linked project, ‘Place2Talk’. By booking themselves in for a slot, any pupil can talk about their news – problems or successes – and get things off their chest.
Imagine that. What a fantastic proposition.
As impressive as the work done with the pupils is the work done with the staff. Working intensively with pupils with significant needs and issues can be physically and emotionally draining. I really appreciate the fact that the staff are debriefed after a day at the chalk-face, are encouraged to engage with therapy outside of work and are offered superb training opportunities.
I’m in awe of its possibilities just now. Within the current climate of discussion relating to standards and school improvements, surely this type of initiative is a must. I can’t see a better way to support the most vulnerable children we have within an educational set up and, if the Lib/Con government support such schemes with enthusiasm, they’ll go up at least one point in my book (still have a long way to get to zero, mind).
I really wish there’d been such a facility around when I was a child. I may not remember the whole thing, but I certainly recall incidents and anxieties that affected me then (as they still might now) from my schooldays.