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The beauty of Facebook is that it allows you to keep up to date with other people’s kids without actually having to go and see them and play with them and coo at them. Who’s pregnant, who’s just had a baby, who’s having another, whose toddler has just started play group or school. It’s all there at the click of a mouse. No having to actually phone people to catch up. Perfect.
But this morning I happened to see something on my Facebook news feed that made me feel quite uneasy. It was a group of photos of some toddlers who had just had their last day at play group.
It was entitled: Emily’s Preschool Graduation.
What? WHAT! Graduation! For pre-schoolers.
I had to stop myself from writing some smart bottom comment in protest. After all I didn’t know the people directly and to indirectly belittle the children of friends of friends must be in contravention of some unwritten code of Facebook etiquette.
I was going to just scroll down and forget about it when I noticed one of the thumbnail pictures. It showed two of the pre-schoolers wearing mortar boards made of card and they were being presented with gold-coloured scrolls by a woman dressed up as the Queen. OK, I made that last bit up but you get the idea.
The picture made me feel even more uneasy, but again I refrained from mouthing off in the comment box. I decided to be rational about it and on my way into work on the Tube, think about just why it was making me feel so uncomfortable. Was I over-reacting? They’re just kids after all. Surely it’s just sweet to see them dress up as if they were grown ups.
Of course it’s perfectly fine for little kids to dress up as grown ups. It’s great fun, encourages them to use their imagination and teaches them about different role models. And that’s why I have a problem with this pre-school graduation. In order for it to have any point, you have to explain about graduations and mortar boards and scrolls. Otherwise the kids are going to be totally bemused about what they’ve been given to wear, right?
So how does that work then? How do you explain to a group of three and four year olds the reason for mortar boards and scrolls?
In a nutshell, you have to say something along the lines of it’s what you get given when you finish school and have done well and worked hard. Yes, I suppose you could be economical with the truth and just say it’s something people do and get given when they leave school but you forget that most three and four year olds are clever anyway and one will inevitably ask that most common of questions: ‘why?’
So now try and get in the mind of a four-year-old on the verge of going to school, a daunting enough prospect as it is. But now they have been indoctrinated with an even more daunting thought.
Got to do well, got to do well…
Now I accept that pre-school children should go on to do well at school. But what I am trying to say is that they don’t need to be told that they should, not at such a young age.
A friend of mine actually believes that children shouldn’t have to go to school until they are seven. Now this is something of an extreme (not to mention a logistical nightmare in terms of child care) but his point was this. Little children should be having fun, playing, learning that way. Not being made to think that they’ve got to do well, got to do well..
I’m not trying to be draconian and say we should ban these ceremonies. I am just trying to explain why those photos made me feel uneasy in the hope teachers and parents might think twice before giving their approval to such ideas.
Pre-school children are just four years old, a few won’t even be that yet. Do we really want to be running the risk of causing them any unnecessary worry or anxiety, no matter how small that risk may be?