No mas que agregar… (nothing else to add)

Basically, it says on the first graphic (the one with the boy):

“This is Paquito, (You put the name you want in English, to make it easy) he spends all of his afternoons until the small hours playing with the console his parents gave him, or listening to youtubers with the mobile phone his parents gave to him as a present. From that moment on Paquito does not bother his parents any longer, and his parents are now happy.

The second graphic (the one with the woman):

And she is Lucia (Again, put the name you want in English, to make it easy), Paquito’s teacher, who spends many afternoons and sometimes until the small hours writing reports and filling in thousands of forms for the School Authorities and Inspectors, because teachers are being blamed because Paquito does not pass any single test and he does not learn anything.

Any coincidence with reality….

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Tête-à-tête

It has been quite a long time since my last post. And yes, probably I did write the same words and I made the solemn oath to myself to write more often.

And yes, life happened and the blog got thrown right to the back seat together with my solemn oath and my will to write once a week or so.

Spring is finally here and this would be the third spring season on the blog. Funnily enough the daffodils pictured three years ago (http://thehappyboobclub.com/2013/03/17/the-first-daffodil/) are the same who decided to bloom first yet again three years later.

So, life happened. Finally I started my course on Early Years Education.  Finally I got a job working with children as an assistant. The place is fairly new and there are children from 6 months old to almost 5 years old.  Being an assistant I pivot from one room to the other  and I get to see the “ins and outs” of childcare and everything I am reading in books notes and lectures from my course I can put into practise – or not – during my work.

Needless to say I am learning so much and gaining so much experience that I feel I could write volumes. More than once I thought on writing on this blog about my day as a sort of cathartic experience but then again I am so intertwined with the confidentiality policy and child protection and child safeguarding that the idea soon became an illusion.

Not because of the name and shame – that of course would not happen – but because of the back-of-the-brain fear that my catharsis would fall into the wrong ears. Paranoid? Yes of course. I read “1984” quite a while back and it has become one of my desert island books and living with the world posed by Mr. Wells in the now is tough enough. Nowadays where EVERYTHING is readily available at the press of a button (or the slide of a finger) no matter how hard you try to hide, you will always, inevitably be found. Unless you decide to go wild and get rid of any means of communication even then you would not cease to exist in the virtual world.

Do not take me wrong. I think the advance in technology is beyond awesome and some good comes from it. I wonder – in the same way probably my parents did – what is ahead and what the future would be like for my son who uses a “Smartphone” as easy as I use a toothbrush. The innovations in technology are so embedded into us that we take it for granted and it is hard to go back to the good old paper letter instead of the fast email as a dear friend reminded me a few days ago when we were having a conversation using skype whilst she was in Argentina and I was in England.

This techno life we acquired – either by will, force and/or need – is unconsciously (or not) being transferred to children. Proof of this is not only the innumerable amount of parents who decide to switch from open dialog to Smartphone but the behaviours I see amongst children as small as 9/10 months old in my place of work.

As I said at the beginning being an assistant I hover around different rooms. Last week I had to assist in babies’ room and the babies were playing at length with different toys. Amongst those toys there were some that looked like a mobile phone made of wood with big coloured buttons and a mirrored surface (see picture, courtesy of http://www.toyshopuk.co.uk/brands/erzi).

Anyway, time came to serve tea and of course all babies were seated round a table. Guess what? Two or three babies were having tea, with a pseudo mobile phone by their plates and they were pressing buttons and time to time picking them up whilst eating. Until I intervened and removed the objects from the table which of course caused some discomfort.

This is a picture that is ingrained in my memories and honestly it hurts. It is one of those things that it does not matter how many times you blurt it out, it will still be there. It raises so many questions. My main question is if these babies when they grow old and are fully formed adults would understand the deep value and meaning of a dialog face to face with another breathing human being either across a table or side by side when they grow up without having a screen in their hands.

Dignitas

La Dignidad - Tapa de la revista para niños
Dignity – cover for the childrens magazine “With Francis by my side”

While I was in Buenos Aires – and I spent two long months there – I found this magazine (see picture) in one of the most well known newspapers in Argentina (Clarin). The name of the magazine is “Con Francisco a mi lado” which translates to “With Francis by my side”.

These magazines were given for free with the Sunday edition of the newspaper and it had as an objective to educate children on the following topics (or “values” as they are called in Argentina): happiness, courage, humbleness, hope, self-esteem, solidarity, effort, diversity, creativity, prudence, friendship, dignity, generosity, family and peace. The bonus? A chance to win a visit to see the Pope in Vatican City.

This collection has the support of Pope Francis and an educational entity called “Scholas Occurrentes” (http://www.scholasoccurrentes.org/about-us/en) founded by Pope Francis himself.

These magazines have the sole purpose to reach every single child in Argentina, help them on their development and give the tools to parents, carers and teachers to answer the differing questions that little ones (and not so little ones!) may have.

The argument the magazine presents is that to be a child in this day and age is not easy and children see the world changing constantly at such a speed that these changes may generate anxiety and insecurity. Not knowing how to face a situation could be disappointing. As children grow up they expect an adult to tell them how to act.

So, Pope Francis comes across in this magazine as a strong adult figure, becoming the wise adult who will give the child a sense of security through a sincere, humane and warm word which certainly will join the words of the parents and carers in the hope of guiding the child through the right path, so to say.

My views are divided. I firmly believe Pope Francis was exactly what the Catholic Church needed – a good shake up from the foundations – and I do believe these magazines are great to help parents to explain what dignity, hope, friendships (amongst other values/topics) are.

But my thought is that these magazines should be aimed to parents/carers directly. And parents/carers should draw a picture about dignity, hope and friendship (and all the other topics/values mentioned in the beginning), and give them to their children. And through those drawings explain to the children what those concepts are.

Is that ever likely to ever happen? Yeah, right…

I can tell you something, my mother never ever told me what “hope” was. I read about “prudence” when I was doing my foundation course and I had to read philosophy as part of the curriculum. “Friendship”? Friendship is my three best friends and a couple more that I had known for more than 15 years and we still get on the phone and talk like if we have had coffee the day before.

My father taught me what “effort” was, making me save my pocket money to buy my first bicycle, for which I am ever so grateful because I learnt once and for all the value of money.

What am I trying to say here? I don’t think for a minute my parents had a book/magazine to tell them what to tell me what those “values” were. They taught me the same way they were taught and I intend to do the same.

In any case, if societies in general (I’m pretty sure there are parents/carers out there who can teach their children values without the help of a magazine) are starting to lose the words or the will to role model these values, I do welcome the magazine.

But target it to the right blank: Parents. And yes, give me any of these values, and I will draw it, any time.

Is it really dead people? A 3 minutes conversation

A few days ago I went to a very interesting talk at The Waldorf School of South West London. The speaker was a lady called Erika Grantham and the talk was entitled “Doing not talking”, aimed to parents and school tutors for kindergarten. No need to say the environment was ever so peaceful relaxing and very welcoming. The thought that in that same room children spend their days made me somehow jealous.

All the colours were soft and warm, there was a nature table with natural flowers and hanging from the ceiling a beautiful weeping willow branch, with some of the ends covered in green, symbolising the spring buds. As you can imagine we sat in tiny chairs in a circle, and perhaps the mood of the room was so calming whoever entered automatically pulled a couple of gears down and spoke very softly and calm.

Regarding our speaker, Erika, she was quietly sitting down, facing all of us, observing and I think enjoying herself with the surroundings as we were. How can I describe her, a tiny woman oozing the strength of a titan, and at the same time that lovely gran from the fairy tales that you wish you could have her as your next door neighbour. With a strong German accent she opened the talk and her words still resound. She spoke about the will, the fantasy and the imagination in a child and on how nowadays all three of them are manipulated by the comforts of modern high tech living.

From this talk and particularly the part of imagination, I remember quite well an episode when I was working regarding this subject.

It was a very cold evening, and we were waiting for a train that was delayed. That train was coming from Disneyland, and I was prepared to greet grumpy parents, overtired children and anxious travellers. But nothing prepared me for the story I’m about to tell you.

As I was saying, I was waiting for the train to arrive; I was informed that a wheelchair passenger was on board, so I was there on the platform with the ramp ready to be deployed as soon as the train stopped. The train arrived, doors were opened and I started to deploy the ramp for this passenger.

To my surprise, the first passengers to come down the ramp were two boys, who were obviously excited to be back. As you can imagine I kept an eye on these two – who were no more than 7 years old – because I did not see an adult coming after them. So I just stood there, with the ramp fully opened and waiting for the wheelchair passenger to come along.

These two boys were talking between them, and they were dangerously close to the edge of the platform. Obviously they had not thought about the danger – at that age they are not fully conscious of it – and they were quite persistent trying to look underneath the train, and close to the rails. It is worth mentioning that the gap between the train and the platform is quite substantial and the depth of this gap is substantial as well.

I was a bit uncomfortable watching these two so close, so carelessly close to the edge so I decided to walk towards them, you know in a very casual way. As soon as I approached, they came to me, hesitating and talking. Finally after a discussion of “no, you ask” “no you do it””you ask go on” the question came out.

– “Is it really dead people under the train?” blurted one of them.

I have to say, I have heard, I have been asked  so many things when I was working, that I could write a catalogue with details and even so probably I would miss a few. But this question? NEVER. Imagine my shock when they asked me, I simply could not believe for one second that 2 seven year old boys were asking me that.

– How about you move with me away from the edge and then I tell you? I said, calmly and with a smile on my face as if the question was the most natural thing to ask.

– But if we move – said one of them – we won’t be able to see the dead people!

– Well, I’m afraid it is dangerous to be so close to the edge, so please come with me and I tell you all about it.

They agreed, perhaps under the illusion the dead people would emerge from underneath the train and grab them. Although that sounded like the right thing to say  to get them away from the edge of the platform– thinking back on reflection – at the time it did not cross my mind to say it. I did see some excitement in their eyes waiting for the promised answer. But my answer was not an answer, was another question.

– What makes you think they are dead people under the train?

– Because in this game we are playing the dead people hide under the train – started one of the boys

– And then – said the other – you have to kill them all!

– Yes, yes, and the more you kill the more dead people appear and then you have to kill them!! – said the one who asked the question in the first place.

All I managed to say is “Ohh….I see” completely astonished.

At that same time the wheelchair passenger was making his way down the ramp and who I think it was the father called them and off they went. But before they went, they did ask again.

– So, are there dead people then?

– Josh, Matt, come back here right now! – Said the man

– I was folding back the ramp and I answered them “Of course not! There is not such a thing”.

The disappointment in their faces was beyond words to describe it. They went back to the adults who were getting ready to leave the platform with all their bags and suitcases whilst I was making my way back to the office to clock out and go home. Nothing that happened that day could top this last event.

Needless to say this “3 minute conversation” still very clear in my mind because it did shock me and every time I recall it still does. And after listening to lovely Erika and all her wealth of knowledge I started to comprehend – understand is not the right word in this case – as to why these two boys posed such a question.  The first thing that comes to my mind is “their imagination is corroded” by these new games and paraphernalia that surrounds children nowadays.  Fair point, children do have to know that those games exist, violence is a real deal, and life is not as rosy as we, parents, expect it to be. We, parents, do our best to keep life as rosy as possible, but the fact remains; reality is not a soft pillow, rolling hills with green grass and perfectly blue skies.

But then again, isn’t childhood what it is all about? Blue skies, rolling hills with green grass and soft pillows? So, why corrupt it so soon and so fast?