Thursday, 12 February 2015

The Secret Life Of Four Year Olds

Well, here is a place I never get to go. Inside my four year old daughter's nursery, with just the children and teachers and no mummies or daddies. These daily three hours are a mystery to me. It's no use asking my daughter what goes on. The doors apparently wipe her brain as she leaves the building. She can remember nothing about what happens inside. (Although the memory of the several playdates she has arranged with her friends without consulting Mummy's diary remains miraculously intact.)

The memory-wiping doors
Twice a year we are allowed to read reports written by the teachers that contain guarded phrases such as "C likes to lead play" or "C has worked hard to control her emotions", which I can only take to mean "C is a bossy boiler" and "C now only has seven meltdowns a morning."

This makes me long to be a fly on the wall. What really happens when my daughter is at nursery?

That's what this programme was for. It was going to give me all the answers.

But this was a specially set up "scientific" nursery, with hidden cameras and a mere handful (if you pardon the pun) of children. And the children were only there every few months. This meant they couldn't develop the sort of friendships you would see in a regular nursery environment, but it did make it an exercise in the establishment of relationships and boundaries and status. As in "I'm not listening to you!" and "I had it first!"

Behind a screen sat two blokes wearing headphones who purported to be child psychologists, although they claimed they had never sat and watched four year olds interacting at length before. Which really ought to be a job requirement if you are going to declare yourself an expert on four year olds. They had all sorts of fancy theories about the children's behaviour - behaviour which some of us lay people might have analysed as "being nasty little shits".

Here comes trouble
Experimental tasks were given to the children and temptations left in their path - two scooters between ten of them, a giant chocolate cake in the middle of the room, and an extra chocolate bar in a leaving gift. Would they share?

Would they heck. Stealing, sharing. It's a blurry line.

But how many mummies would resist a partially sliced giant chocolate cake in the middle of a room? Hm? How many of us would have also had tell-tale ganache smeared around our chops after five minutes of being left to our own devices? Especially if we were surrounded by squabbling four year olds.

You would, wouldn't you?

At the end of the day, we're all nasty little shits at heart. We just learn to hide some of our nasty little shittiness as we get older.

The children were all much of a muchness, apart from one. Chaim was twice the size of the others. His parents adored their blue-eyed enormous boy, but his behaviour was lacking way behind his height. He was, in essence, a bully. The teachers didn't call him that, but the other children did. "Just bite him," a girl advised one of his victims. As Chaim could read and write, unlike most nursery four-year-olds, I wondered if he had been excluded from several local primary schools and his only remaining option was for his parents to pretend he was nursery age and have the television crew educate him instead.

Another child, Cuba, lived in terrible knitted jumpers on a houseboat. Skyla obviously had parents who were fans of Breaking Bad. Jessica wanted to make friends. Jayda liked singing songs. Christian liked lining things up in a row and obeying correct behaviour protocols.

The children bickered about who had the best colour toilet, pushed each other off chairs, talked about death, built dens, told tales, told lies, occasionally helped each other and sweetly held hands, and played mummies and daddies. Although their game of mummies and daddies seemed to feature lines from EastEnders like "Stop ringing me, Richard! You're not the dad, OK?"

Bizarrely, none of them mentioned Frozen. Which means they can't have been normal four year olds.

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