Confessions of a Slacker Mummy

I’ve written on this blog before that Flea doesn’t do homework. She still doesn’t.

I firmly believe there are far more important things for a four-year-old to do between the hours of 3.45pm and 7pm than spellings, or sums. Like scattering small pieces of Lego around the house for your mother to stand on. Or creating stunning fashion statements like the one below, which Flea selected for a friend's party on Friday evening.

Flea I’d much rather Flea spent the hours between school and bedtime playing in some way, than studying. I’ve always felt this way – when she was a toddler, I didn’t make any effort to teach Flea to read or write. We did have a very brief experiment with a toddler group that reckoned to ‘boost pre-literacy skills’ but that ended when Flea kept talking at the wrong moment and the class leader gave her a glare that could have frozen water at 50 paces (listening is a terribly important skill, I'm sure, just not to a talkative three-year-old).

Still, it’s not always easy to stick to slacker parenting principles.

At Flea’s first ever parents’ evening, the teacher told me that Flea was struggling to hold a pencil, and she refused to even try to write her name. That same evening, I overheard another parent worrying that her daughter was ‘still’ writing certain letters back to front.

A little part of me did panic. And I had that competitive urge that wanted to prove my kid was smarter than her kid, and with a bit of coaching I was sure that Flea wouldn’t write her letters backwards. That’s the part of me that wanted to take the worksheets the teacher was offering, to help ‘bring on’ Flea’s writing.

But I didn’t. My slacker tendencies are just too ingrained. I told the teacher I wasn’t worried, and that the last thing I wanted was for anyone to push the issue in any way. Fortunately, the teacher agreed, and said that providing Flea was happy and making friends, anything else could wait.

Last week, I went to my second ever parents’ evening. Flea’s handwriting is still a little bit behind that of her classmates but this term she was given a merit certificate in front of the whole school to recognise how hard she’s tried and how much she has improved. Not only that, but her teacher said she’s in the high ability group in both literacy and numeracy, despite being youngest in her class.

More importantly, Flea’s happy. She loves school, and she is friends with everyone in her class. She’s confident, she’s articulate, she has great manners and a fab sense of humour. She's just the most fun to be with, and I know I'm hopelessly biased, but it's still true.

Tonight, I lay on Flea’s bed while she read me a story. She read a whole 20 pages without stumbling over a single word, and although it’s perhaps not quite the book I would have chosen, when I heard her reading: “The green goblin threw another pumpkin bomb at Spidey and shouted ‘take that, web-head,’” and then cackling with glee at the words, I had to stop her and give her a little squeeze, and remember that her achievements are all the more special because she’s made them in her own time.


Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She’s also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world’s coolest ten year old.

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  1. 9th May 2010 / 10:14 pm

    She’s obviously doing great! Why is a 4yr old being taught to read anyway? I know Britain has been criticised by the UN (? – I think) for starting literacy training way too early. Apparently it would be much better to wait until six years old, or even later. You are dead right on the homework.

  2. 9th May 2010 / 10:19 pm

    Oh my goodness…you’re verging on gushing here! Are you still Sally?
    You obviously have done the right thing with Flea…she’s a cracker! 😉

  3. 9th May 2010 / 10:20 pm

    I have to say that the idea of four-year-olds having homework makes me feel ill. I have a feeling that I’m going to be one of those Mothers who is simply going to explain to my son’s teachers that we will not be doing homework during reception.

  4. 9th May 2010 / 10:21 pm

    Given my angst with my 2 year old at the moment, relating to various “issues”, this post has firmly reminded that while they may do some things slower than others, they WILL get there eventually. Now more of us just need to realise this so we can support the other, rather than adding pressure.
    Well done Flea, and well done you for sticking your ground! *admiration*

  5. 9th May 2010 / 10:36 pm

    Yay Flea!! I’m trying hard myself not to get too hung up on getting her to read/write. She’s a couple of months shy of 4 and much too young for all that stress. She does plenty of “learning” at nursery but when I hear about kids starting reception already reading I too get that moment of panic. Difficult to push is aside. I don’t think I would have had the balls to say no to the teacher!

  6. 9th May 2010 / 10:45 pm

    A proud mum, and rightly so. Good to hear Flea’s teacher was happy to let her go at her own pace. And I just love her party outfit.

  7. 9th May 2010 / 10:46 pm

    Well done Flea! She’s I’m totally with you on them being too young for homework. My four year old is the youngest in his reception class too and there’s no way I’m pushing him to ‘study’ after school. It’s family and playtime for us.

  8. 9th May 2010 / 10:49 pm

    Well, I’ll accept the compliment but I think Flea deserves the credit really!

  9. 9th May 2010 / 10:52 pm

    I think the UK’s approach to literacy is ludicrous. And yes, in many countries they advocate waiting until the age of seven to begin formal literacy teaching – whether you do that or start at four, they all end up in the same place at 16 – so I just hate, hate, this focus on getting them doing stuff ever earlier, as though that’s some kind of achievement.

  10. 9th May 2010 / 10:52 pm

    Hey, I said it was a proud parent moment, you can’t say you weren’t warned 😉

  11. 9th May 2010 / 10:53 pm

    I’m sure I’m not the first – Flea’s teacher and head teacher have both been completely supportive, and haven’t ever pushed the issue. I just think lots of parents imagine they CAN’T say no.

  12. 9th May 2010 / 10:55 pm

    Amen to not adding pressure! And that’s a great point about getting there in the end – they really do, for the most part, all end up achieving their potential. I think actually accelerating the early years artificially actually risks making them bored and frustrated at school. That’s my excuse, anyway!!

  13. 9th May 2010 / 10:56 pm

    It really is hard to surpress – Flea wasn’t reading or writing AT ALL when she started school. She probably recognised the letters but that was it. I think you just have to wait for something to ‘click’ and they suddenly get how it works – and that doesn’t happen at the same time for everyone, so why push it?

  14. 9th May 2010 / 10:57 pm

    That outfit was described by someone as “Charlie and Lola meets Cat in the Hat” which I think captures it perfectly! Flea thought she looked AMAZING, which is what counts

  15. 9th May 2010 / 10:57 pm

    Gosh, yes, I think it’s extra important for august babies.

  16. muummmeeeee!
    10th May 2010 / 7:06 am

    I think that’s true of most things, not necessarily just reading and writing. We do seem to put ourselves and our children under too much pressure when we really should just embrace their childhood and natural progression in the world as they learn at their own pace..

  17. nomorexcuses
    10th May 2010 / 9:26 am

    My 4YO starts school in September… & you’re telling me they’re going to give her HOMEWORK?? That’s mad. And she’ll be one of the oldest.Yesterday she took all afternoon to help me bake a loaf of bread and fill an old eggbox with cut-up bits of paper. We’re FAR to busy for homework!! I’m with you too Sally, life’s too short for competitive parenting.

  18. 10th May 2010 / 10:50 am

    Hooray! I am completely with you on this one and refuse to push my children. But I do get twinges of worry when I hear that half of my 8yo’s class go to Kumon, French, etc etc after school. Am I doing her a disservice? I hope that I’m not. She gets homework once a week and she does it, because I think she’s old enough, but her younger brothers get no homework and if they did, it would be ignored. Hopefully her wonderful imagination nurtured through hours of play and making up stories in her head will stand her in good stead one day. And if this makes you feel any better, she took AGES to learn to read and write properly and did her letters backwards until well into year1, but she now writes joined up neatly and reads chapter books. All with minimal intervention from me. And she loves school.

  19. 10th May 2010 / 1:50 pm

    I think I have said before, you are not alone in this at all. All I want for my two boys is to be happy at school and they are. The school are great and cater to both their needs, but I do not make them do homoework, Maxi will look at his and if he fancies it does it!
    Nor do we read the allocated book each night, but we do read each night and I am just amazed at the things they know, espcailly as we have not sone anything to activly teach them.
    Schooling in the UK starts a year too early INHO

  20. 10th May 2010 / 5:20 pm

    I’m right with you here as I think I mentioned before. I have an eight year old and a six year old and my daughter will start school next September as an August baby so just 4. I never look in the backpacks, I really don’t do the homework, both my boys are actually quite vigilant with what they need to do and in fairness their old fashioned school it is pretty low key.
    However I think the system in the UK is bonkers, asking 4 year olds to write is tough – they find it physically difficult, in a couple of years it will come easily. What are they going to do – pen their memoirs, sign a cheque ? I’m sticking to my slacker guns – as my friend says ‘they won’t go down the aisle in a nappy.’ Flea is happy and lovely – enjoy xx

  21. Nikki
    11th May 2010 / 2:26 pm

    Sally- how old is Flea again? My daughter is nearly 5 and doesn’t start school till Sept. As a June baby she didn’t get access to rising 5’s or reception so is still at nursery. She hates “work” i.e learning her letters and as for writing, she can do her name and colour in but that’s it. She’s had no interest in it at all and to some extent I’m really proud that we’ve encouraged play rather than work, but after reading posts like yours and many others, I get really anxious that we’ve not pushed her hard enough at all. Proper reading is fantastic and I’m delighted for Flea, but crikey o’reilly do I feel bad for Jenni (my lo). I’m not taking anything away from Flea at all – go girl I say to her and well done you!
    The nursery say don’t push her, that they learn/re-learn it at school but still…I guess we’ll see…..

  22. 11th May 2010 / 3:14 pm

    I know – at Flea’s school it’s only supposed to be 15 minutes but I know some friends who say by the time they’ve nagged and cajoled them into doing it, it can be an hour. Madness!

  23. 11th May 2010 / 3:15 pm

    I firmly believe kids end up in the same place regardless of what ‘head start’ they get in the early days. I never did a single bloody pre-school activity or after school coaching OR homework but I somehow managed to scrap a post-grad qualification.

  24. 11th May 2010 / 3:17 pm

    I agree with you on school starting age. In our area, we were blackmailed really. It was, “Oh they don’t have to start until they’re 5 but if they do then you miss reception and they go into year 1 and there won’t be any places within a 20 mile radius. But apart from that, it’s TOTALLY up to you.”
    Hence going to private school 😉

  25. 11th May 2010 / 3:19 pm

    You make such a great point – I don’t see the benefit of teaching writing if their motor skills aren’t at that point yet when a year later it would be so easy. For me, that was a bit part of the choice of school. In Flea’s class where there are only 10 kids, it’s a lot easier for them to tailor teaching. I think in a class of 30 they have to push on regardless, simply because they have to get through the curriculum and hit the relevant points on the right dates.

  26. 11th May 2010 / 3:21 pm

    Flea is 4. We followed exactly the same ideas as you in pre-school. The only reason she’s writing now is she’s an August baby, so started school 2 weeks after she turned 4.
    My point is that she was the only kid there who hadn’t had any sort of coaching or learning pre-school in writing/reading/counting. But she’s now out-performing many of those kids, including ones who were reading when they started school, or the ones who could write. So what was the point of all that coaching? I’m sure those kids would have preferred to be like Flea, and just have enjoyed those precious years of play and exploration.
    Oh and Flea still doesn’t care for colouring in. She only truly became enthusiastic about writing when she discovered the concept of writing a letter to Santa and asking for loot. 😉

  27. 11th May 2010 / 4:26 pm

    Well, I think it sounds like you are doing exactly the right thing with her. Yeah for slacker mummies!

  28. 12th May 2010 / 1:44 pm

    I can’t tell you how much I agree with this. My kids are all grown up now, all set their own pace, one was pratically reading when she started school, one didn’t really learn until he was about 6. Never pushed, tried hard to leave them be, resisted every urge to cram and fret and coach and just let them have a good and interesting time. The one who didn’t read until late has just qualified as a doctor. We expect far too much far too early and pressurize children in a way that is not good for them at all. Down with helicopter parenting and up with slacking.

  29. Nikki
    12th May 2010 / 8:42 pm

    Thanks Sally, you are lovely in reply 🙂
    I guess its a case that they do it when they’re ready rather than on a schedule, or at least I hope so LOL. Jenni doesn’t colour in a lot- she prefers to go round the house barking – pretending to be scooby doo or playing nurseries and being a teacher “managing” the show and tell box. She’s soo imaginative and plays for hours with her brother. Hopefully she’ll catch up quickly but we’re there for her equally if she doesn’t (hubbie is cross lateral and she’s shown a few tendancies in that direction). Parenting! Not easy!
    PS Love the incentive for Santa writing LOL! Will steal that idea!
    Nikki x