Do babies really need an owner’s manual?

When did you learn to read, utter your first word, count to ten, do up your shoes or touch your nose?  Well apparently the government needs to know which is why it is enforcing a “national curriculum for children from birth to five.” 

There are echoes of Huxley’s with parents under increased pressure to send their babies to childminders, who will then monitor:

children’s progress towards a set of 69 government-set “early learning goals”, recording them against more than 500 development milestones as they go.

Apparently, their “early years profile” score at the age of five will be recorded by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES).  What will happen to the wee ones who are behind on their giggling grades isn’t clear – maybe we’ll have a tickle tsar.

In public relations, we increasingly recognise that people are individuals, not as some simplified mass.  This is something I believe applies particular to learning.  But the government believes all children are identical and should be forced through a structured sausage machine of education.

Maybe we should survey all politicians to find out when they first recited “Humpty Dumpty”, took their first steps, dressed themselves, or discovered how to do a quiet fart!  Does it really make a difference to later progress?

Of course we need to help children with learning difficulties, but the majority of babies develop at their own pace and aquire all the basic skills in the end.  It is 25 years since I studied child psychology as part of my degree – but even then ‘s four stages of cognitive development were seen as approximate and not rigid.

Do we really need the DfES to “reassure parents that their child’s development is being supported, no matter what form of childcare or pre-school education they use”? 

I appreciate many parents aren’t familiar with babies before having their own, but wouldn’t simple guidance enabling them to feel confident about gradual development be better than increasing paranoia about their babies’ ranking in kiddi-school?

Clearly the government believes babies should come with an owners’ manual – so they’re developing a  “92-page set of practice guidance featuring 513 skills and attitudes children should acquire” will ensure nursery staff adopt a “rigorous approach”.  Don’t they know that has already beaten them to it?

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

3 thoughts on “Do babies really need an owner’s manual?”

  1. This really grates with me, especially as recent events in my life have shown me how different babies progress at different rates.

    While the aspirations behind providing a “manual” may be well-meaning, by providing guidelines, checkpoints and goals the governmenrt will be giving parents another arbitrary test to feel they have to meet.

    Being a parent is an art, not a science. It’s useful to have guidance, but the development of a child in their early years can’t be turned into a formulaic process – and this strikes me as an attempt to do just that.

    Rant over – back to the nappies now!

  2. Thanks for the first hand perspective – I think the real joy of life, and particularly children, is that it is unpredictable. Yes, sometimes things go wrong or are tough – but learning from life is the stuff of being human. Sometimes I think we need to chill out a bit and appreciate that everything in life cannot be controlled – and we don’t need “them” to sort it out or make us fearful. Having a good rant is equally important in life.

  3. I would have read this kind of thing if it had been available for me, not to take as the gospel, but as a guidance. I think being a parent is a difficult job. They should teach it in schools. My son has just begun getting sex education. What about the bit after that though?

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