Pushy Parent Syndrome

Not reading yet?

Last night, I attended a seminar (for want of a better word) at Flea's school, where the teachers explained how the children are being taught to read. 

I was expecting something quite full on – this is a private school and one that has a reputation for "bringing children on" (as they call it). But the evening took me by surprise. The head teacher said we shouldn't feel the kids always need to do their homework (which is lucky for us, considering we are bona fide homework slackers) and that it's more important to spend time looking at books together, sometimes reading to our children and sometimes helping them read to us. But most importantly, just spending time talking and listening.

For me, it was great. But not everyone felt the same. One Dad asked what he should do because his daughter (who's been in school for all of three weeks) came home and could read the word "went" on two pages, but didn't recognise it on the third page. "I tell her that we'll sit there until she's read every word correctly," he said.

The teachers very nicely suggested that he could chill out, and stressed that he shouldn't try and push his daughter's reading, or he might cause a problem where there isn't one. Another Mother complained that her older daughter had kept coming home with simple books, and wasn't being challenged enough. She didn't want the same to happen to her younger child, who's in the reception class. The teachers explained they'll often send kids home with simple books purposely, so the child gains confidence and doesn't see reading as something that always has to be hard work. I'm not sure the parent was convinced.

It's fascinating for me because I've always assumed this kind of pressure came from schools and teachers – but now I wonder if much of the pressure isn't down to the parents themselves. I can understand the impulse to want your children to do well, to reach their potential and feel confident. And I know I love reading, and I can't wait to share that with Flea. But for me the single best thing my child's teacher said last night was: "If they get to the end of reception and can't read, but they love books and they want to come to school every day, we can always come back to the rest."


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. 1st October 2009 / 7:08 pm

    I’m convinced that it is the parents a lot of the time. I once went to a parents’ meeting at my kids’ nursery, and, bearing in mind that we were talking about three year olds, people were complaining that whenever they arrived to pick up their child, they were playing in the playground (rather than learning the alphabet or similar). Honestly, children playing? What is the world coming to…..

  2. 1st October 2009 / 7:38 pm

    i love the sound of this school… Daisy starts next year and i’m already stressing about the homework… mine that is, not hers! glad to hear its all about what they already love.

  3. Sally
    1st October 2009 / 8:44 pm

    @Nappyvalleygirl – I always used to complain if the kids were indoors on a nice day!
    @Nappyvalleygirl: Yes, it’s been very reassuring for me.
    @Brit – absolutely! I was chatting tonight with a friend and we think it’s mad that you have these reviews like the Rose/Bercow etc showing that UK kids are struggling with literacy. And what’s our solution? Let’s start pushing them earlier! Let’s start worrying about pre-literacy skills as soon as they start talking! And I want to say – why not think about pushing less and perhaps starting a bit later? It works pretty well in other parts of the world, after all. (sorry. rant over!)

  4. 1st October 2009 / 9:01 pm

    Homework in first infants – yikes! I think the teacher has this one right. Pushy parents scare me.

  5. 1st October 2009 / 9:02 pm

    I’m one of those pushy parents. 🙂
    My son is a year ahead in school and comes home complaining about his homework being too easy every day. He doesn’t like it. So I asked the teacher to either give him harder homework or none at all. It doesn’t have to be too hard for him, but too easy isn’t fun either. He’s getting stuff that he could do two years ago sometimes.

  6. 1st October 2009 / 9:24 pm

    It sounds like the school has a great attitude! Not sure the same would be quite true in state schools (although the teachers would probably love it to be) because of all the pressures of stupid SATS.
    Mwa, I think it’s completely different if it’s your son complaining that the work’s too easy, rather than you pushing him when he’s happy with what he’s doing. Finding the work too easy can lead to disaffection later on, so it’s important to keep him motivated. Bright kids can get frustrated with work they perceive to be pointless.

  7. 1st October 2009 / 9:25 pm

    You should see the ones we’ve got! Pushy pah half the children here are already on War and Peace 🙂

  8. 1st October 2009 / 9:33 pm

    Mwa, sorry just looked at your blog and realised you are a teacher, hope I’ve not offended!!!Just sharing my thoughts based on what I’ve seen as a secondary teacher.

  9. Sally
    1st October 2009 / 9:43 pm

    @Mwa – I think for me it’s about being led by the children. Yes, it’s important to support kids who are struggling but also important to keep bright kids challenged. What the teachers said last night that struck such a chord with me was they don’t ALWAYS make the homework reading tough, that sometimes it’s important to let kids just enjoy the story without having to worry about reading new or challenging words – these are 4 year olds, after all.
    @Tattie – really? Flea finished that in pre-school 😉
    @Kath – Yes, I very deliberately opted for a school that doesn’t do standardised testing at primary level. I just don’t believe it does anyone any good.

  10. 1st October 2009 / 10:45 pm

    I’ve got all this to come. The pushiness is definitely coming from the parents I think, I can see it already in other parents of 3 and 4 year olds. My almost 4 year old has no interest in holding a pen or pencil, some children his age can write their name (as instructed by parents, it’s not something they do at his pre-school). But I refuse to stress, he’ll do it when he’s ready. I had a lot of pressure on me to do well academically and I don’t want to pass that on.

  11. 2nd October 2009 / 9:46 am

    I have to admit I was terrified when I read that they were giving homework to four-year-olds. My daughter is 16 months and staring a life of enforced maths, but this post was wonderfully reassuring. It is so true that I would rather she learned to love books than learned to read at this point.

  12. 2nd October 2009 / 10:49 am

    In Italy children start reading and writing at the age of six and I was very worried my son might be way behind the UK school system when we move back next year. I feel reassured after reading your post, I guess it’s a matter of finding a school that is not too pushy.

  13. 2nd October 2009 / 3:35 pm

    I have a friend who stresses about her son’s daily (daily!) spelling list that he brings home to learn. Don’t these people realise that our children are growing up in world where spellchecker will do it for them?
    As for reading, how can you make a child sit there till they can read every word? Either they know a word, or they can figure it out, or they can’t, in which case you have to help them along. It’s not like cleaning your teeth, or eating up your plateful. For heaven’s sake.

  14. 2nd October 2009 / 4:40 pm

    Sounds like a great school. I actually feel sorry for the staff when they have to deal with idiot parents like this.

  15. 3rd October 2009 / 9:08 am

    I love their approach and it makes a lot of sense. I had expected them to be stressing the important of regular homework so your post was a pleasant surprise. Instilling confidence in their ability is so much better than making them re-read a word until they get it right. The only way I know this is because I’ve tried both approaches with my six-year-old.

  16. 3rd October 2009 / 11:51 pm

    I’ve just had my first bit of homework from nursery. I say for me because there’s no way Little S could do it on his own!

  17. Gill Hunt
    5th October 2009 / 1:19 pm

    @Mwa – teachers always complain about SATs but.. at least they are an objective measure. No-one seemed to notice my son was falling behind until SATs loomed – and he wasn’t the only one.
    @everyone-else – you have to try to keep faith in your kids and not succumb to the parental peer pressure. Hitting A levels & GCSEs with ours this year and fingers crossed they’ll do OK. Have seen several friends kids suffer from stress related problems in the last few years and that’s much worse than dropping a grade here or there.

  18. Patrick
    5th October 2009 / 4:28 pm

    I have to work really hard not to be competitive dad when Joshua is taking part in any activities, but I agree with the philosophy of the school (it sounds almost too good to be true).
    Joshua’s not at school yet, but with other stuff the he’s involved in (eg swimming and football classes) I want him to enjoy them and have a love for them. He’ll become as good as he can be if he loves it, but not if I push him.
    That said, “Go on, tackle him, pass, shoot, WIN!”

  19. Sally
    6th October 2009 / 9:47 am

    @Gill Hunt – yes, your point about SATs is a good one. The schools I looked at where there were no SATs were all schools where class size was 10 or under, meaning the teachers could easily identify how children were performing. In a class of 30+, I guess that’s not so simple. and you make a great point about not succumbing to peer pressure.
    @Patrick – I know, it’s a lovely school – I do suspect things kick up a gear as the kids get older, it’s a very high-achieving school, and they’re certainly very strict on manners and behaviour! But yes, I agree completely with your point – I think Flea’s swimming, playing, socialising and other activities are just as important as her reading at this point in her life.