Sunday, 30 August 2015

More possible questions than I've answers for: and the joys of growing [up/older/vegetables]

One of the great things about being a grandparent is the sheer joy of sharing the way in which the grandchildren discover the world they live in. I am fortunate to have 9 grandchildren of varying ages. I love the natural persistent curiosity young children have, the sheer exhilaration they can experience when achieving something after much practice, and the endless, often challenging questions they pose. I am sure most of us at some stage will have been asked by a 7 year old 'who is God's Mother?' or 'if you had a choice of having your arm chopped off or your leg chopped off, what would you choose?' or 'where does the wind come from?'.

They are the kind of questions that keep you on your toes, and for me, make me smile with sheer happiness. Likewise the energy they have inspires. Last week I took my eldest daughters 3 children to the 'Cream o' Galloway', an organic ice cream centre that has an adventure playground as part of its attractions. The number one thing to do, other than eat the delicious ice cream, was to ‘Go Boing’. These were a cluster of connected trampoline nets suspended amongst the trees which the grandchildren loved and my 60 year old legs didn't!

And my youngest daughter eldest child was given a bike by a neighbour last week, which was stabiliser free. He isn't quite there yet with his balance, but he’s learning and having fun at the same time. Many studies have shown that the most formative years are those between birth and the age of 8. About 90% of a child’s brain develops by the age of 5, and 85% of a child’s intellect, personality and social skills are developed by that age. Whilst supporting, stimulating and encouraging a child during their early years is a parent’s responsibility, increasingly others, like grandparents are involved in the child's early life care. There can be many reasons for this, but most often it is economic concerns that top the list with many families caught in a net of both parents having to work and in order to do so, source and pay for early year’s childcare.

The costs of childcare have spiralled in recent years. According to the Family and Childcare Trust the cost of keeping a 2 year old in full-time nursery education is around £918 a month or around £11,000 a year.  All my children except my youngest son (he hasn't started yet) have at least 2 children each and the cost of trying to provide full-time nursery care is completely prohibitive. Of course there might be some readers who might wonder why, given the known expense, couples don’t just have one child. Looking at the '4-2-1' problem China is now experiencing, makes me glad that in my own families case, they chose and were able to have more than 1 child.

The '4-2-1' problem has given rise to a situation where the only child potentially becoming responsible for their 2 parents and 4 grandparents. If pensions and savings fail to provide adequate cover in later life, responsibility for the care of the older person might be beyond the only child's resources and increasingly care become the responsibility of the State. So it was good to see last week councils, employers and childcare providers in the England being asked to come forward with innovative and flexible ideas of how to deliver 30 hours of free child care every week from September 2016.

The UK Government already spends £5Bn a year supporting childcare provision, helping parents to return to work and when working, keeping more of their income to spend on things other than childcare. More than 80% of all parents surveyed in a national survey undertaken by the Department of Education said they would take up the offer of free child care if it was available now. Sadly, even within the existing provision, 50% of families (some 113,000 children) from the most disadvantaged groups in society are not using their free places, particularly those families with 2 year olds.

As OFSTED's Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw noted last week, children from poor families don't always do as well as those from better off backgrounds – there can be a 19 month achievement gap by the time children start school reception class (4-5 years old) between those children who attended good quality pre-school child care facilities for part of the week up to starting school and those that didn't.  This is a gap that can severely disadvantage a child's chances and opportunities in later life. Watch this space for those innovative ideas to emerge – in the meantime, I'm personally glad to do a bit of child-minding. Its an 'awesome' experience as my one of my 2 year old grandsons is pleased to say!

And last Friday I was privileged to see something else that I thought was equally awesome. I was invited to the Crossmichael Community Garden Open Day. This is a South West Scotland Gardening Project that uses gardening in therapeutic ways. On the side of a wind swept hill, the garden, tended by those recovering from an alcohol or drug related mental health problem was full of fruit, vegetables. There was even an Enchanted Secret Garden for the children who visited, so they could also learn how to grow their own food and cultivate flowers however old they might be. I cant think of a better way to spend a Friday afternoon - Brilliant!