When Maisie and Zoe wanted to visit the Natural History Museum in London as part of a research project, they asked Nuala’s mum Janette if she would be their chaperone. Chaperone’s are under strict instruction to be physically present (20 yards behind) but to have no interaction whatsoever with the children unless they feel it essential e.g. if there is a safety issue, so that the children have the experience of being independent in their little adventure into adult society.
Janette wrote this delightful letter about her experience and has kindly agreed to let us put it up on the website.
Thank you so much for the opportunity to chaperone Maisie and Zoe yesterday – a wonderful experience!
The girls did so well – they constantly came up against well-meaning adults who felt they had to ‘help’ or question or interfere and sometimes, they looked a little fearful but all was well in the end. For example, Maisie had figured out that having to stop and unpack your bag each time you needed your ticket on train and tube, was time consuming and impractical so she kept her ticket in her purse and purse in hand. After yet another bag/ticket struggle, Zoe rearranged herself on the tube and did the same (no discussion between the girls – but Zoe pretty much took Maisie’s lead throughout the day) – a lady sitting opposite then very loudly announced to the whole carriage that ‘that child is going to lose her purse – she should be told to put it away!’. Zoe looked mortified and glanced at me, the woman went on and on and stared at me accusingly – I turned my back and there was a general harrumphing but when I turned back, Zoe was sitting, with a very dignified expression, very pointedly holding her purse on her lap!
Timing was an issue because they were so fascinated by everything they saw! So we followed fat pigeons on station platforms, Z&M stopped and had a debate about Victoria Station’s decor “Why on earth have they got fake flowers” – stood and wondered why a helium balloon had made its way up to the ceiling of the tube station (I would never have noticed that it was there!)
The tube presented a few problems – I had a travelcard (bought a network card in the end so ticket would be cheaper) but they had their train tickets so joined a queue to buy tube tickets – only to be told that under-11’s travelled free – they were impressed and delighted by this revelation but lost time. Then – how to find the tube and which train was the right one. This was their first major panic and they were being swallowed up by the unforgiving, relentless horde of commuters – they did look genuinely frightened so………..and I hope I did the right thing………I pointed to the tube map on the wall and asked them which station they were going to – that was all it took and they figured it out by themselves. Next problem, once we arrived on the tube platform – which tube was the right tube – eeeek! Again, I pointed to the map and traced the route of the trains – showing them the final destination – again, Maisie got it immediately and so we boarded the right tube.
In the museum, all was well until they realised that they were oing round and round in circles and not finding the exhibits they needed for their research. Again, I hope I did the right thing – Maisie had made me lunch (!) and as we ate together, I asked them if they had ever noticed that in cinemas. theatres, museums etc, there was always an information point and where was it usually sited – ‘by the door’ – yes, that’s right – pennies dropped and after lunch, off they went to ask for directions – they even bought a museum map, the attendant drew their route on it and so they could find their way to the right room.
I did one other ‘interference’ which I’m not sure was strictly right – but it felt right at the time. The girls were getting tetchy and cross with each other – the School bag was heavy and Maisie left all the carrying to Zoe who was getting fed up and a little teary – and they were struggling with the map – “I had no idea it was this big, I thought the Dinosaur hall bit was the whole thing” ….so I spoke to them and asked if they had noticed that the map was colour coded like the tube map – and the way that in busy places, the signs were always high up so that everyone could see them……again, Maisie grabbed the clue and figured it out and we were on the right track straight away and their relief was palpable.
There were other tricky adults – the train guy who didn’t want to sell them their tickets without an adult, the school teacher who barked at Zoe “Where’s your Mummy!” when she became entangled in the crocodile of red-blazered 11year olds in the lady’s care, the nasty teacher who shouted in the face of one of his little charges and told her how stupid she was………..I was fascinated by how the exercise of self-restraint and relinquishing control of/decision-making for the girls, amplified my awareness of other adults dominating and disrespecting children – and how those children reacted to that – a wonderful reminder : )
Sorry – this is turning into an essay! Last thing – on the way home, the girls got slower and slower and slower – I was unsure of what to do – my phone had run out of juice and I was worried about all at HQ being worried about the girls……in the end, I bit the bullet and kept to the guidelines – frustrating but we eventually made it back – the journey from Hove station to the Montessori Place taking around 40 minutes (ooooh, look at this rock, let’s pick these flowers, a cat!)