Are we preparing our children all wrong for school?

By Dr Vanisha Mishra-Vakaoti

“Daddy, why don’t people say hello to us?”  

Each morning on their walk from the café to our four-and-a-half-year old’s pre-school, my husband (a Sociologist) and son smile at, greet, and say “good morning” to others. This was not the first time that Rafa has asked us why people do not respond.

We explained that some people might be rushing, they might be tired, they might be worried about something or maybe his greeting surprised them, and they didn’t have time to respond before passing by.

This particular morning, they decided to do a little ‘social experiment’. They counted the number of people they greeted and kept a record of the number who greeted them back, or even just acknowledged them with a smile.

In the 250m walk from the café to school, they said good morning to six people, and only one person smiled at them. 

How busy, tired, and stressed are we that we don’t have the time to acknowledge each other’s humanity?

Many of these adults had children of their own. Some were walking into the same school grounds.

Around this time, Rafa’s welcome pack for ‘big school’ arrived in the mail. It told us about the school, and what we could do to help our child transition into this new environment. It talked about skills he would need to help him settle in, and of course the list of material items that he needed. 

I’m not excited or concerned about finding the best lunchbox, or deciding on a new Fjällräven Kånken backpack, or doing a big shop for clothes for school (his school doesn’t have a uniform). Instead, we have focused on other things: can he invite other children into his play, can he ask to join the play of others, can he greet children and adults around him. I didn’t think too much about our focus on skills versus things until a dinner time conversation a few weeks ago.

“Susan said when I’m an adult my skin will turn black and I’ll be put in jail and I won’t be able to see my mumma and daddy.”  

My husband and I looked at each other dumbfounded. We are both from Fiji, and race is something we talk about a lot in our home.

We knew that at some point Rafa (born in New Zealand) would encounter some of the comments we have received about our race, our skin colour and assumptions around both. Neither of us expected that it would happen so soon. 

This conversation coupled with Rafa’s little ‘social experiment’ got me thinking about if we as a society are preparing our children all wrong for school.

Things versus Skills  

Are we putting greater emphasis on things versus interpersonal skills and self-awareness?

Have we guided and fostered enough moments for our children to practise inviting a child who is on their own to join their play? There are so many opportunities to practise this in real life, but to also draw on scenarios in books.

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