Are we giving boys the run around?
On the plus side I have learned how to dribble - this time with a football - how to dance about on a straight line, knees bent in a half crouch, and, most importantly, how to celebrate a goal in style. But, I have also had to spend many hours scraping mud off the carpet, pulling siblings apart, shouting "don't karate-kick the chair", "don't jump on the couch", "No you can't play footballbasketballtennis in your bedroom".
You may have already guessed, it was half-term and I am the proud keeper of a five-and-a-half-year-old son. Whatever they say, he is a completely different species from his sisters. Those of you lucky enough to have shared such a blessing will know that boys at that age have enough energy to power the national grid. If Tony Blair really is dedicated to ending global warming, instead of planning a nuclear future he should be considering how to set up a network of power plants with nothing but a treadmill and a couple of dozen boys aged between five and 10. These new power stations won't even need a football: make the boys sit still for half an hour and then let them loose. In the absence of a ball of any shape, I'm sure they, like mine, will be happy running endlessly around.
Just one day of continual rain turns him into a fizzing ball of energy, flying around small rooms, all arms and legs like a destructive Catherine wheel.
So, I wonder just how his teacher copes with him and the 15 other boys in his class, now that he is in Year 1 and the freedom of the foundation stage is far behind him. How does she manage to get them to concentrate on phonics and mental arithmetic when rain stops play and lunch? Even his sisters, both reading, writing and colouring between the lines in Reception, complained after their first week in Year 1 that there was "too much work". How does a child with undeveloped fine motor skills, but a well-developed sense of self, cope when he is discouraged from doing, or forbidden to do what he is good at, and forced to concentrate continually on what he finds hard, if not impossible. Even his PE lessons seem to focus on control and small movement: walking on tiptoe and balancing, with little time for all-out speed or climbing.
However she does it, his teacher does more than just control the class, and he loves school. But I can't help thinking he is one of the lucky ones. He runs home from school, plays in the garden, his diet doesn't consist of junk food and fizzy pop, he sleeps well and he is quickly learning when society expects him to control himself. What of those who have none of his advantages, but all of his energy and more, how can we hope that they will be inspired and not suffocated by school?
I appreciate that these are not new questions for our education system, but surely as schools take on board Excellence and Enjoyment, more time and thought has to be given to how we treat our younger children. As we live in a country that still has a royal society to protect our animals but not our children, perhaps we should take a look at how we treat our pets'
offspring. The RSPCA would be round like a shot to rescue puppies living cooped up in a two-room flat with nowhere to run and play for fear of bigger dogs, and being fed completely inappropriate food. Puppies who, when they do get a chance to leave the house, spend six hours a day tethered to a desk and given less than an hour's exercise, if it's not raining.
Our man cubs need the same consideration. It's one thing to teach boys how to behave in a way society expects, but completely another when society doesn't allow them the time to act as they need. And allowing them the space and time to expend their energy in school before we impose structured, formal learning can only reap benefits for years to come.
Brenda Roe is a governor of a north-east London primary