Deborah Ross: Our woman in Crouch End

Take, take, take, take - you under-fives only think about yourselves. But what about me?
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The Independent Online

The Government's plans for a National Curriculum for babies and toddlers has been greeted with scorn by childcare experts, and while I don't pretend to be a childcare expert, or any kind of expert, even though I am very expert at never defrosting the freezer compartment of the fridge so now there are old ice-lollies and bread crusts embedded in the walls, I do feel I have something to say on this matter.

I feel I have something to say as I do have one child, and may even have had more, but the trouble with under-fives particularly is that they are such hangers-on and liggers - take, take, take, take - that I might have left a few outside the Post Office over the years. I may even have left a few inside the Post Office, where they are probably still waiting for "cashier number two, please". This, as we all know, can take several lifetimes in itself.

The thing about under-fives is that, when it comes down to it, they really are the most awful shirkers and layabouts, napping whenever they so fancy - don't you think I'd like to nap whenever I fancy? - after a tough morning of, perhaps, spilling things and clapping at any old rubbish and hanging on to mummy's leg, even when she is on the toilet or trying to put her tights on. Don't you think I'd like to spend the morning spilling things and clapping at any old rubbish and hanging on to a leg? It wouldn't even have to be a very nice leg. Michael Fish's leg would do and I'm sure it's not a nice leg at all. It would just be lovely to know that there was a leg out there to hang on to if I so wished. Bet you've never thought of that. But when do you think of anyone but yourself? I don't think I'd like to hang on to Jeremy Clarkson's leg. I'm not that fussy, but I am a bit.

Listen, 0-5s, it really is about time you all bucked up your ideas. I'm amazed we've put up with your behaviour for so long. I mean, it's one thing demanding everything is done for you if you are, say, Mariah Carey, but quite another if you have no track record, no back catalogue to speak of, smear food all over your face, right up into your hair-line - have you ever even thought about what you look like after a Mr Whippy? - and are partial to sticking beads up your nose. Don't you think I'd like to rub my head in a Mr Whippy and stick beads up my nose, if only I had the time?

You can do nothing for yourself. Nothing. Can't get up the stairs, have to be pushed everywhere, never offer to defrost the freezer. And while such helplessness may be acceptable from very old people, largely because they might have a house you can sell behind their backs, and possibly some jewellery, it is not acceptable from you. You, who, as far as I can tell, currently do nothing at nursery except make dried pasta calendars, sometimes sprayed gold, sometimes sprayed silver, and do I ever say to you: "Oh no, not another dried pasta calendar, destined to shed nasty shards of penne all over the floor for the next 12 months? Can't you at least make something useful, like a DVD player that records?" No, I do not say that. When you took your first steps, did I refuse to share your excitement and say: "So what? Everyone can do that, even Lizzie from Wife Swap, and she's as thick as anything?" No, I did not.

One-way street

This should work two ways, you know. But it's just take, take, take with you, and I'm fed up of it. You've never even had me down the clinic for a development check. Not once. And I've taken you, how many times now? I could be deaf and retarded and short for my age, for all you know. Just a bunch of flowers every now and then would be something

I know what critics of the plans say. They say that pre-schoolers do not need a national curriculum because they do all their learning though play, at a rate that suits them, and that is the way it should be. Learning through play, my arse! Do I ever get to learn though play, at a rate that suits me? Do you think I learned to get my VAT returns in on time through play at a rate that suits me? No. I learned it very, very quickly, at a rate that didn't suit me at all, when the bailiffs came round and said they wanted my house and the car and the breadmaker I never use now the novelty has worn off and that's how I learnt to get my VAT returns in on time.

Do you think I wouldn't want to learn though play? Do you think if someone said to me: "Let's watch CBeebies for a good while then do some learning through play at a rate that suits you", I would say: "No thank you, not today?" I can assure you I would not. I would welcome the chance to sit - propped up securely by cushions, if I'm in any danger of taking a nosedive - and watch Balamory. Do you think I like having to go to work every day? Do you think I actually want to watch Newsnight?

So I think this Early Years Foundation business is a terrific thing. Get them out of the womb and dash them into the classroom, so that they are, at least, paying their own way a little, perhaps in The City, by the time, say, they're cutting their first teeth. Oh, look, a first tooth! Did you think I'd never seen a tooth before? Have you ever stopped to think that my teeth are now so old and crap and hurty I might like to be cutting my first ones, too? No. Bet you haven't. Take, take, take, take, take.

d.ross@independent.co.uk

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