Education begins at home

I was really intrigued by this article that I read at the weekend. If you can’t bothered to read it, it basically says that toddlers and preschoolers from poorer backgrounds that enjoy dressing-up and imaginative play, experience a high level of parental involvement in their young lives and are encouraged to do number and letter games are more likely to do well at school.

My first thought was ‘Well, duh’. It makes total sense that children are more likely to do well at school if they are encouraged to learn and use their imaginations at home. Shouldn’t every parent, regardless of education, wealth and background, be doing all of that anyway? It’s basic common sense isn’t it?

Then I took my Mum hat (fez) off put my work hat (sombrero) on and remembered that far too many children aren’t given even the most basic opportunities to learn and create. The research looks at children from poorer backgrounds but I’m sure there are plenty of uninvolved parents at the other end of the wealth scale.That’s a whole other level of emotional neglect that is incredibly hard to quantify.

I have to confess that I have started getting a little fed-up with the girls wearing a variety of dressing up outfits every single day. For the first time in ages they decided not to be Tinkerbell (sorry – it’s actually a Silvermist costume as G keeps reminding me), Alice, Cinderella or Snow White today and actually wore normal clothes to nursery. Well, they always wear normal clothes but they are usually obscured by a large flouncy costume and fairy wings.Their dressing up clothes are falling apart but their nice tops, skirts and tights are fairly pristine, aside from the cuffs which are wrecked.

The lack of dressing up didn’t inhibit their imaginations one bit though. On our way to nursery this morning R announced that she was Fawn (they haven’t even seen the Tinkerbell movie yet the know all the fairy names) and I can’t recall who G was, possibly one of the girls from Fireman Sam but it was early…

One of the advantages of being a twin is that you’ve always got someone to bounce your ideas off. If G wants to play imaginative games she’s got a natural partner in crime in R. The girls aren’t always reliant on us to be a fairy, a princess or a firefighter. In any case, the dressing up outfits don’t come in my size – at least, not in a ‘suitable for viewing by small children’ way…

One of the things that I need to think about, though (and this article has reinforced it) is that I tend to ‘teach’ the girls things at the same time. For example, I bought some Oxford Reading Tree phonics books and before I read them aloud to the girls I ask them to identify the letters in the words that form the title of the book. One of them is clearly much better at this than the other (it doesn’t feel fair to identify which one is which at this stage) so I need to separate them for this activity in order to boost the confidence of the one that finds it harder and ensure that the other is learning at the correct speed. I need to do the same with the number and letter flashcards and games.

Dh tends to do number-based activities with the girls but he’s also very proud of his ‘Letter of the Week’ initiative, which I picked up from a parent friend who has an early years teaching qualification and suggested to him. Once he’d finished rolling his eyes he started with A and every Wednesday he and the girls sit at the computer and use Google Images to identify items beginning with a particular letter. Then they drag the images into a Powerpoint presentation with R and G getting a slide each for their chosen pictures, with the text underneath. They print the pictures out and stick them up in the dining room and their on bedroom walls. Dh has created a file on the computer so that the pictures can be re-used. He also prints off pictures of the actual letters so that the girls can colour them in. It’s all about familiarity at this stage and the information seems to be lodging in there somewhere.

I always think there’s more that we could do, but the girls seem happy enough with the learning activities we do with themand I’m also keen not to push them too much at this stage. If they say no to a particular activity one day I don’t push it with them. I also like to rotate the things we do with them, so they don’t always expect one of us to do letter-writing and the other one to do arts and crafts. One of the huge benefits of dh being around so much is that we can share the activities out.

You can probably gather from all of this that I (and – I think Dh) am really enjoying this stage with the girls. We’re not at the point of worrying about targets, school reports, SATS or homework yet so we can do things at our own pace. That will come in time. For now, I want the girls to enjoy learning new things and using their imaginations. Hopefully this will set them up for the future.



Monsters Inc.

The HoT has two new inhabitants in the form of some rather active little monsters. Now, I know what you’re thinking and yes R and G do have monster-like tendencies but they have adopted imaginary monsters and treat them like pets.

G’s is a little pink and purple baby monster that gets tired easily and needs lots of cuddles and kisses. Sometimes it gets bigger and scares her (pick the bones out of that one, child psychologists…) but mostly it just sits on the table and sleeps. R’s is HUUUGE, green and called Dominic. It waits outside the front door for R to let it in and it ROARS and stomps around shouting.

It’s fascinating that their imaginary monsters reflect the girls’ personalities. G’s is sweet and kind but occasionally gets angry. R’s is very loud and stompy and likes to let everyone know it exists.

G is much more into the game than R and washes her baby monster in the bath and takes it to bed. R joins in the game but doesn’t initiate it. She’s happy for her monster to exist when she wants to join in G’s game. Otherwise she’s not that fussed.

I don’t know how long the monsters will be with us – they only arrived today – but it’s another fascinating glimpse into the mind of (nearly) three year olds. I’m rather hoping it’s a sign that they have excellent imaginations and doesn’t mean that they’ll be paying vast sums of money to therapists when they grow up!

The end of the toddler years…

….is nigh. Three months today R and G will be celebrating their third birthday (Actually, I very much they’ll be in bed at 9pm after celebrating their birthday). Tomorrow they are (finally, but that’s another story…) moving up from the toddler room at nursery to the Little Star Room, for the children that aren’t quite pre-schoolers  (the girls become Big Stars and official pre-schoolers next September and start school in September 2012) but are beyond the nappies and toy-bashing stage. I’ve been airily telling people that the girls are now junior pre-schoolers but that’s a bit of a lie to be honest and I should shut up and stop wishing their lives away.

The girls know that they will be moving next door tomorrow but they don’t seem that fussed about it. In all honesty, not that much will change from their point of view. R’s key worker is moving up with her so there’s continuity for her. G’s old key worker was the deputy room leader of the toddler room so won’t be moving up but G will now be looked after by the Little Stars room leader who is also the potty and toilet training guru.

They will now do more formal learning – the emphasis in the toddler room was on free play with some learning whereas they will now be put into reading (to) groups and while they won’t exactly be having lessons I’m hoping that the girls will soon realise that they can count beyond 12 and that ‘Eleventy’ isn’t a real number. I’m also hoping that the girls will learn to say ‘Three’ rather than ‘Tree’ – blame their Irish ex-room leader for that one! We say Three Three THREE until we’re blue in the face and the girls don’t take a blind bit of notice.

I’d better say at this point that we do all this learning stuff at home as well but I find that the girls pay much more attention to the nursery staff than us. Plus ca change…

The girls will be moving up with most of their little gang of friends, which I’m really pleased about. This also means that they might leave poor little T alone, one of the new members of the toddler room, probably about 18 months old, that they have recently taken a shine to. They give this poor little thing massive gooey hugs while she stands there looking bemused and (dare I say it?) a little bit terrified.For her sake alone it is very good that they are moving next door.

The girls may not be that bothered (we’ll see how they are tomorrow morning) but Dh and I feel that it is a more momentous change and the start of things to come. The teeny 18 month old toddlers that started at BDN back in June 2009 are now robust, talking, bright (hopefully…) almost pre-schoolers, ready to terrorise their new and existing carers. The Little Stars room is going to be an interesting place for the next year…