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Principal's Blog

2013 TERM 3

Babies In School

A few years ago, I was hosting a school principal for a day – a fairly common occurrence.  On this occasion, I was asked the following question:

'I have a bullying issue at school – and no budget capacity to spare.  Is there anything I can do?'

'Easy', I replied, to an incredulous look, 'bring a baby.'

His expression then changed to something more like simple misunderstanding – being the gulf between our experience here at FCS and that of a more conventional school setting. 

Those who have visited our school will know that there are few days when there are no babies around, while on many days there are a number of mums, and the occasional dad, spending time in the school with their little tots.  This parent may help cut up some carrots, or read the paper, or just have a chat with another parent while their little one plays.  Another thing that will be observed is the regularity in which our school children entertain or play with these babies.

I field a couple of queries from parents each year, those new to school, along the lines of:

'Would it be ok if, after I drop Catherine at school, that I wait around with little baby Tommy for an hour or so, as we then have to head off to an appointment and there is no time to get home first?'

My reply is always yes.

If time allows, I make the point to saying to parents of preschoolers that they are more than welcome to spend time at school with their little ones, that they and their baby contribute to the overall happiness and well-being of all in the school simply by their presence. 

This encouragement of babies actually has a point of genesis.  A decade ago, a prospective school starter asked to spend a couple of terms at school, observing what we did.  A few weeks into this, she asked if she could attend a school camp that I was taking – but added that she would have to bring her 18 month old.  In agreeing to this request – I was privately questioning the wisdom of this plan to bring a toddler to camp – and how it would work out. 

It worked out really well.

Three boys adopted baby Jaya as their little buddy – a couple of whom had fairly well-established reputations for... being overly boisterous.  Baby Jaya softened them, brought frequent displays of kindness and created a web of social cohesion.  I have encouraged babies ever since. 

Initially, when baby requests are received so positively, I think many parents think I am just being polite – feigning pro-baby political correctness.  Actually, I think that some parents never give up the idea that I am just being polite, and many visitors see babies as just an obstruction to effective schooling. 

I think that this view is actually correct from a certain perspective – for example, teaching fraction addition in period three to year four. If the focus is the immediate transfer of an academic skill, then the addition of a baby to a classroom is a distraction. If, however, the mission is happiness, viability and academic success – and your time frame is the next few years, not the next class – then babies are a wonderful addition to this mission's rate, and chance, of success.  Babies immediately change the culture of a school, making it more caring, and the children, irrespective of their ages, more responsible, calm and affectionate.  Babies increase everyone's sense of belonging as they elicit shows of affection and responsibility, and link the children to each other.  Babies thus deliver social cohesion, while decreasing exclusion and disrespectful behaviour – all of which feed directly into decreasing social and emotional difficulties and classroom management issues. 

A school in which babies make a regular appearance finds teaching fractions to year fours an easier and more easily accomplished task, simply as the school functions more effectively.  The experience of looking after preschoolers is empowering and builds self-image.  A toddler changes a child's role in school from a student (a receiver of inputs from the school) to a person who is responsible for the care of another small person.  Toddlers and babies help children to grow up, and aid them in becoming more responsible in a non-threatening and non-challenging manner. 

All of this is not to claim that baby should be out the front at the white-board in the year four maths class – he or she will simply be a distraction – but that having them around a school is a gift.


Timothy Berryman (Principal)
BA DipEd GradDipEdStud BLitt MLitt MA




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