They see apparent chaos around them with a central feature, a parent’s face, their voice, their sustenance.
They respond, through crying, gradually having some muscle control and smiling, making responsive sounds.
It all takes time, but, somehow, while we can only engage with their externalising, their brains and bodies are developing in very sophisticated ways.
They start to interact with their world; their life journey of experiencing and making some sense of these experiences.
Each of us carries around the distillation of our passing experiences, formal, some sustained like years in education, or training programmes, many informal, some fleeting experiences, others based on life, our families in childhood, then our friendship groups and personal decisions about partners and life location.
Every one of these experiences impacts on us, some as they are pleasurable, others because they are traumatic. It can be easier to recall life’s highlights or low points than the more mundane aspects of our lives, as the significant events are our life “landmarks”; transitions almost. While our memories do alter over time and recreating earlier life can sometimes lead to embellishment, at any point in time, we are the sum of the parts.
Recently exploring my earlier life through looking at locality maps, it was clear to me that in geographical terms, the bulk of my life to the age of seven was restricted to a distance of around one mile from home, with occasional school holidays spent with more distant family. From the age of five, this was often independent and outside with friends; perhaps a luxury for today’s children.
My world expanded exponentially when we became £10 Poms, sailing to Australia via stops allowing visits to Pompeii, Athens, Aden, Columbo, Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney, followed by the train journey to Brisbane. Five and a half weeks of watching out for dolphins, whales and flying fish. Playing deck quoits and other novel games. Watching the sellers with their fully laden, colourful canoes arrive beside the ship with their trinkets hoping for a sale, goods and money exchanged via ropes and baskets. Children and adults prepared to dive for coins thrown from the boat. It was interesting at the time, although my adult self can see it as demeaning. It was certainly “eye opening”. There was a very different world from the seemingly grey experiences that had preceded it.
Life has certainly happened since then. I have blogged about it, highs and lows, as I remember them. I won’t rehearse the features now, but it is worth reflecting that life memories are filtered through forgetting, as well as remembering.
On 13.09.18 I tweeted that I was reflecting on the following: -
We’re all constantly creating our internal models, developing them as new information appears. Challenging this creates internal tension; destabilising for some. Learning how to accommodate and adapt to circumstance has enabled ideas to progress; a life skill.
This followed a day when I worked with ITT trainees, followed by a session with their mentors. Within the room of some twenty nine trainees, there was clear evidence that some elements of their new experiences were causing internal tensions; the personal, getting to know their context and everyone and everything within it that might impact on their professional lives; the demands of studying and running a household, some with much reduced incomes; the detail of the academic information that they were receiving, some after a significant gap since their degree. Accommodation and adaptation take time, which, at this point in their existence is at a premium.
Children are learning to take in information, learning about learning, at the same time as having to accommodate to a multi-faceted world. There is a truism that young children are naturally inquisitive, prepared to try things out, familiarising themselves with novel experiences, through what we often call “play”, which they then describe as “fun”.
As an adult, I often engage in familiarisation activity; a new camera, smart phone or laptop requires familiarisation. For a while, I “play” with them to see what they can do, in my case, using prior knowledge that comes from earlier experiences with the same technology. I am sure that my camera, smart phone and laptop can do significantly more than my current uses, but, for now each serves the purposes for which I want them.
If I am listening to a speaker, as I will at an education conference, or in a university lecture from a colleague, I can be distracted by a single point that triggers a line of thinking; it resonates or challenges a previously held piece of understanding. This may lead to a bit of note making or doodling an idea trying not to forget the thought from “the moment”, which can happen with just trying to listen and hold onto everything that has been said. The single nugget can form the basis for further reflection, discussion or reading, leading to a change in my understanding.
In the early days of school learning, learning to order and organise thoughts is a key element, which is supported by teacher organisation and presentation of the different curriculum elements, ensuring that necessary links are made overt between aspects of learning, so that children are not left floundering with the bits of a jigsaw but no image within which to place the pieces. It is to be hoped, too, that learning in school might lead to extension in the home; appropriately set home activities can extend vocabulary or lead to further discovery. See talk homework.
It is incumbent on the adult generation to offer life opportunities to children, in and out of school, that allow them to participate in the experience, to explore with whatever is their current capability, and to articulate their thinking, enabling an adult to engage further with questions or clarification. The act of learning can be “fun” to children. They need to learn that learning is not something that is done to them, but that they are active participants in constructing their own schemas.
As a headteacher, I used this ideal as the basis for the school teaching and learning policy, which is on the blogsite. It was simplified into one diagram, as follows.
At any point in time, we are the product of our experiences. If they are broad and supported by articulate adults prepared to unpick inconsistencies and add further value to the experience, the child can thrive, with the opposite also having an element of truth, although we may have to accept that children can succeed "despite their home/school experience".
If a child lives in a knowledge/language-rich environment they will experience and learn to use a wide range of conceptual words. The Bristol language studies of 1971 led by Gordon Wells showed the impact on less rich environments. It has implications for the language rich environment of schools, too, especially if the home contexts are known to be less rich.
Schools and parents, within their communities, are partners in bringing children into their world. Learning to work effectively together is essential.