As a teacher, I’m always looking at children to see what they are learning and how they are doing it. They clearly have learned things from my lessons, and yet the children bring varying degrees of knowledge and understanding from home. As a parent, I get to see things from a different point of view.
I’m a mum of two: a 6 year old son, T, and an 18 month old daughter, G. Both appear to be intelligent children, although this is clearly harder to judge in G, with her being so young. But what is clear to see is the difference of influence we have at home over the two of them. G is at the age of soaking up new information and vocabulary every minute of every day. Especially over the last few days, new words come tumbling out of her mouth constantly. We hear her repeating things, pointing out objects and “singing” songs that we have taught her, all of which are a little miracle every time we hear something new. Our influence over her is enormous, as is that of her big brother. But it’s not just us who are shaping her learning: MVNTH and I both work, so she spends time with her grandparents and with a child minder. Both of these clearly have an influence over her too. At Christmas time, I was very excited to do some hand painting with G (being an awful parent, I hadn’t done it sooner), yet G knew exactly what she was doing. She had clearly done this before, and had picked up the concept of putting paint on her hands and then pressing it on the paper: she had learned the routine. She sings recognisable songs that we haven’t taught her and comes home with new words she has learned. While it is clear that her immediate family have the biggest influence over her, her extended family also have a huge role to play.
With T, at 6 years old, the learning relationship is clearly different. Before he started school, everything we told him was the gospel truth. He would believe everything we told him, and accept answers that we gave him. He’s always been inquisitive and has very quickly picked up new information. Since starting school though, we are no longer his main source of information. He doesn’t necessarily accept what we tell him as true: that honour is now reserved for his teacher. We have been telling T for years that he needs to be eating his vegetables. Not good enough. The wonderful Mr G, his class teacher, tells him the same, and suddenly he’s trying to count how many more than 5 a day he can eat. Daddy tells him he needs to be turning lights off to save electricity and money (not me, I’m hopeless at turning them off!) and T completely ignores him. T comes home from school having listened to his headteacher’s assembly on saving electricity and all of a sudden he’s telling us off and flicking switches behind us.
It doesn’t matter what our relationships are with children, be it parent, grandparent, teacher or child minder, we all have a huge part to play in educating them. I’m not talking about how to do column addition or what expanded noun phrases are, I’m talking about the real stuff: the general knowledge, the understanding of the world around us, the common sense. We all have an obligation to teach these children everything they need to know, and we can only do this by talking to our children. On a family outing earlier, we were all laughing at the string of “why” questions that were coming from both children (18 months? Really? We thought we had at least another year before that started!), but it is such a vital question for our children to ask. Yes, it can be frustrating to answer it, and usually very laborious, but we need to foster this curiosity and encourage our children to ask questions. We need to answer them, and if we don’t know the answers, find them out together. I’ve learned a huge amount since T learned the “why” word. We all have a huge amount of knowledge floating around in our heads, so we all need to ensure we share it with those who are desperate to learn.