A Slow Cooked Childhood

Jan 11

A Slow-Cooked Childhood, by Hilary Phillips

This article was featured in The Sherborne Times, January 2024

I moved house in August. Three dogs, chickens, a horse, three fairly grown up children at the stage where they don’t fully have their own homes, so all their stuff is still in the family home and a husband who frankly could fill a skip with all the things he has never thrown away (only child=plenty of space!). It was a large removals lorry and I still have boxes to unpack. If I am to be brutally honest with myself, some of those boxes are from the last move. I’m the head of a Dorset prep school, Hanford, and we tend to move for the job, so you would think that this would make me streamline our belongings, but it doesn’t seem to work that way. Every item in our house is like an ingredient in our lives and together these ingredients make up a wonderful recipe of memories.

On the subject of recipes, one thing that did get unpacked fairly quickly was my kitchen box with my favourite casserole pot. I love the creativity of cooking and the element of surprise. The recipe never turns out the same way twice. It’s rather like that here in school. We are a slow cooking school and believe in giving the children plenty of time to develop their own individual flavour. So much nowadays is about fitting in, getting the “likes” or the followers and not allowing individuality to flourish. It’s quicker and easier if we all do the same but we all know that mass produced dishes never have the same depth of flavour.

Childhood is a very brief moment for us all and we only get one shot at it. That’s why it’s important to get it right. What children need is time and too often we find that time for them by using shortcuts, usually tech based. This creates a dependency though and is counterproductive. It’s all very well to shout about Artificial Intelligence but I think our own intelligence must take priority. It’s not true to say our intelligence is fixed, but it’s only going to grow in the right conditions. Here at school, we take away the phones and iPads are only used in class under supervision in a lesson and, do you know what, nobody misses them!  What we hear is not the tapping of keyboards or the silence of a child in an online world.  No, what we hear are shrieking children, lots of laughter, squabbles, occasional tears, the clip clop of ponies’ hooves, the crunch of gravel as girls run headlong around the site and excited yelps as younger pupils are helped to climb the cedar tree outside my study.  Of course, there are fights but without the follow up of comments or pictures on social media, they are quickly forgotten because the children are encouraged to reflect, to talk over the problems and to empathise with the other person. Each child needs a slightly different recipe and, because we focus on the individual, we can tweak the ingredients as appropriate.

Hanford School-In Celebration of National Poetry Day 1

The slow cooking effect does not only work for the children, but it has also worked its magic on the adults around them. We don’t walk around with our phones out and we don’t react like Pavlov’s dogs when the ping of a message is heard. We chat, we look each other in the eyes, we look around us.  It’s well worth looking around as our little part of Dorset is so incredibly beautiful, nestled as we are between Hod and Hambledon Hills.

Progress is good of course, change is inevitable and if we don’t change, we risk going backwards, but that’s not to say that we should leave everything behind. The best recipes are those that have been handed down through time so let’s learn those lessons and keep what has been proved to be good. It does take courage to take the tech away. It does take willpower to put your phone or ipad down but if we can’t do it, what chance do our children have? You will be considered the cruel parent, well for a time at least, but when you see you have a child who is confident enough not to be a slave to the reactions of the pressures of social media then it will be worth it.

We aren’t dinosaurs here at Hanford.  We educate about and by using technology but we make it work for us and stick to our values. We celebrate the important things. A recent celebration in our Friday chapel service was not about a top score in maths, our sporting prowess or a win in a national show jumping competition. It was a great big well done to a girl who rose to the occasion when one of the school guinea pigs lost its claw. A cold compress with firm pressure was the first response, the first aid box was fetched and a bandage applied, a note was written on the guinea pig daily record to avoid picking up the injured one as she would probably bite (the guinea pig, not the pupil) and then matron was approached to advise how to get bloodstains out of a skirt.   Job done!

Hilary Phillips, Head of Hanford School

The recipe below was also included in the Sherborne Times, as an example of some different ‘slow cooking’ Hanford-style.

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