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EDUCATION: With Peter Clague, Kristin School

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Kristin School’s Executive Principal, Peter Clague, offers a reward for the return of childhood.

I am considering offering a reward for the return of my childhood.  It’s been more than three decades since I carelessly discarded it because I had more pressing things to attend to, but now I want it back.  And let’s be clear – it’s my childhood I want back, not somebody else’s.  I know all that stuff about youth being wasted on the young, but frankly, today’s children aren’t getting much of a chance to waste their youth.  Little by little, it’s being taken from them.  Eroded before they are finished with it.

What I want back is the childhood that I took for granted.  I want to roll in the long grass, not mow it.  I want to eat spoonfuls of Milo straight from the packet, not wince as I sip the bitter benefits of green tea.  I want to stretch in the morning because my muscles are calling out for the joy of it, not because they now cry out if I don’t.  I want to buy two-for-a-cent lollies again, rather than broccoli and $5 tomatoes.  I want my old priorities back.  Approaching my tenth birthday, I was anxiously waiting for my first watch.  These days, I’m anxiously watching my weight.

Not that I needed a watch.  “Come home when it gets dark.” was my mother’s most punctual command.  When we were kids, time was unconstrained in a way I can barely imagine now. Days seemed elastic, boundless, no more of a finite commodity than air or water.   Back then, a boy could idle away hours pondering the mystery of females.  Now, we spend them pondering the history of emails.    As a kid, I was a master at stalling the onset of going to bed.  Nowadays, I scheme about how to get into it sooner.  On a strict ration of only one TV programme a day, evenings were magically longer, the back garden more intriguing and your siblings mysteriously less irritating.

When did we get so busy?  Is it just a function of an ever-improving society?  No doubt there’s more on offer for our children than there was for us.

It all seems irretrievable now.  I can’t even moan enviously about today’s children squandering their childhood – they seem as busy as we do.  Does anyone build tree-huts anymore? Or aimlessly roam the neighbourhood on their bikes?  Even modern leisure activities for children are frenetic.  I had a Playstation too, when I was growing up, but it was called a sandpit.  Are we role-modelling busyness as a norm?  As parents, we are encouraged to give our children ‘quality time.’  But these days, it seems that any scrap of uncommitted time has high quality.  It has become a scarce and precious resource.

When did we get so busy?  Is it just a function of an ever-improving society?  No doubt there’s more on offer for our children than there was for us.  Do we therefore feel an urgency to cram more into each of their days in order to make the most of those opportunities?  It’s not that I dislike my own busyness.

I love my job and wouldn’t swap it for anything.  And it is certainly true that working with young people helps keep you young. I don’t really want to be a less-busy adult, or a child again.  But I do wish that I had savoured more being young and unencumbered.   At the time, childhood seemed endless and I was in a hurry to escape it. How I wish that I had realised then how bountiful free time was.  It leaves me all the more determined to tell our young people that, sometimes, doing nothing is the most important task they face in a day.


by Peter Clague