Education Quandary

'My nine-year-old son is over-excited by all the Christmas events at school. I don't want to be a killjoy, but is this how things should be?'
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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

Hilary's advice

You're not risking sounding like a killjoy: you are one. Children are supposed to get excited by Christmas, and adults are supposed to try and contain this excitement at least until the crack of dawn on Christmas morning. Admittedly, their job isn't helped when festive decorations appear in Boots at the beginning of October, and television advertisements start to jingle away soon after. These things can fray adult nerves, and make them feel by this time of year that they are crawling on their knees towards the main event.

But primary schools do a terrific job of reminding children that Christmas is not just about wanting and getting. Their nativity plays, concerts and charity fund-raising events are a great antidote to the commercial pressures outside. They allow children to explore their talents, pool their efforts and feel that they are contributing to the greater good, while, for parents, they offer unrivalled chances to video their children in action, eat not-very-nice mince pies, and bask in a seasonal glow of community warmth.

But these things can't be thrown together in two days, and the build-up of excitement is all part of it. As we speak, frazzled teachers will be running around finding props, checking instruments and printing off programmes; schools will be decorated to the hilt; and children will be twice as high as usual.

It may be, of course, that your child is particularly excitable and that you do have a real problem. If so, keep things calm as possible at home, feed him a good diet, and get him to bed at a regular time.

Remember, there are few children who will recall their classroom lessons as vividly as they will remember how they felt when they stepped onto the school stage as a Wise Man, or trembled with concentration trying to bang their cymbals on time for "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing". It is all part of learning. And if the by-product of this is a child who is bouncing off the walls at home for a few weeks, it seems a small price to pay for such jollity.

Readers' advice

As a teacher who is frantically busy with reports, clearing-up and crowd control, all I can say is "bah, humbug!"

I have just produced a Victorian play in which every one of the 36 eight- to nine-year-olds had a speaking part. They acted, sang and danced their hearts out. In the course of this play, they learnt something about the plight of the chimney sweep, the Crimean War, the Victorian class system and the Children's Act. They thoroughly enjoyed themselves, too.

Yes, they were high and probably will continue to be so until the end of term. However, this was learning at its most effective. It is how schools should be.
Hilary Mckendrick, Kent

Surely schools should be exciting places? That's the way to cure truancy and behaviour problems. Parents should be seeking to share the excitement, not damp it down. I am a father of three, and much involved grandfather of seven.
Bill Hyde, Kent

I have some sympathy. My daughter is coming home in exactly the same state, and I believe it has a lot to do with food. Normally she has a good diet, but last week she got chocolates from her flute teacher, and cake when she went carol singing. I'm all for festivities, but don't schools need to watch what their pupils are eating?
Rosemary Manning, Bristol

Next week's quandary

It seems as if the papers are full of bad news about how teachers can't cope with children's behaviour, pupils can't write proper English, no one wants to study chemistryand universities have no money. Has anything good happened in education in 2004?

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to reach her by next Monday, 13 December, at The Independent, Education Desk, Second Floor, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or send e-mails to h.wilce@btinternet.com. Please include details of your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser

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