Loosening the apron strings

By Greg Whitby, 7 June 2017
Greg Whitby is Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta.

Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta

The question that is often asked of children ahead of starting kindergarten is whether they can tie a shoelace, pack their bag and open their own lunchbox. This is an indication of the level of their independence. Young people feel good about themselves when they know they can do something or deal with something when adults aren’t around. Developing young people’s  capabilities means that they are better able to cope with new situations and face challenges when they arise.

Understandably, giving children greater responsibility can be difficult for some parents. It is often easier and faster for parents to tie their child’s shoelaces, pack their sports bags and make their school lunches. Parents are also exposed to much more stuff, particularly via social media, and this can also lead to parents feeling a greater need to protect their children from perceived dangers. The long-term effect is that the more we do for children now, the less they will be able to do for themselves later on. When it comes time for young people to step out on their own, they will struggle to do simple things like wash clothes, cook a meal and manage their finances.

Experts say that we need to go back to basics by teaching young people how to do things rather than provide reasons why they can’t do it. I am not suggesting that parents ignore their duty of care. Far from it. All parents need to make a judgment as to what age their child can walk home from school alone, go to the movies with friends or play at a park unsupervised. Parents know what their child’s vulnerabilities are so any decision always needs to be in the child’s best interests.

However, being a responsible parent doesn’t mean taking responsibility away from young people either. Rather, it means recognising that the best way for a child to learn something is to do it for themselves and then continue at it until they can do it well. This is the core of good education theory.

The great Italian educator, Maria Montessori hit the nail on the head when she said that adults should never help a child with a task that the child could succeed at on their own. Sometimes we need to bring the child’s perspective (of letting go) into our thinking instead of wanting to keep a firm grasp on the apron strings.

Greg Whitby

Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta

 

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