She’s Only A Child

9 December 2010

I haven’t got any children.  My only ‘expert’ knowledge has been gained because I was one once.  I come from a fairly average sort of family – mother and father living together, one sister.  The only odd thing about my upbringing was that I was brought up in hotels and pubs, and we moved quite a lot, so I went to 5 schools from the age of 11. 

I was (am?) reasonably bright and generally kept up with, or overtook, other pupils in most subjects at school.  I’m not being modest when I say that I wasn’t an outstanding student and am certainly not what is classed now as “gifted”.  I was just a fairly intelligent child with parents who encouraged us to read, play music, take up hobbies etc.  All pretty normal.

But I’ve noticed over the last few years that our expectations of children’s ability (in the Western world) has slumped to an all-time low.  Threads on Ravelry talk about 8 year olds  being too young to learn to knit for instance – they can’t concentrate for long enough, they may damage themselves with the needles.  Balderdash!  My sister and I were taught when we were about 5 – I’ve still got the first item I knit which was a scarf for my father, using about 8 different stitches (including a cable), when I was five and a half.  By the time we were ten or so, we were knitting proper garments for ourselves – cardigans etc.

Recently I came across the UK Brownies’ rules to obtain a knitting badge.  One of the requirements was that the Brownie had to knit a pair of socks – proper socks with a turned heel – and these girls would be about 9. 

And it’s not just knitting.  I noticed in a bookshop the other day that the age at which books are aimed without pictures has risen tremendously (except for the Harry Potter books, which are being read by quite small children without a picture in sight).  5 year olds at school seem to be playing all day, not studying the three Rs. 

5-10 year olds can read, play musical instruments, knit, sew, learn a foreign language all quite easily.  And I’m not talking about the current trend for hot-housing where some children are collected from school and rushed off to extra-curricula lessons (generally to improve their chances of getting into a ‘better’ school) and have no time for play.  We went to activities that interested us – swimming club, brass band practice, acrobatic lessons – and at home we read, knitted, played with friends.  It all seemed like play to us outside of school.  But it meant we were able to ‘dip our toes’ into a number of interests and meet people (adults and children) away from school and home.  Some of these activities we’ve stuck with (like knitting) and some we’ve dropped along the way.  But they were all very good life experiences for a child.  Nobody ever suggested that we wouldn’t be capable of doing something because we were only children. 

I really do think our society is vastly underestimating the ability of children and my few visits to a school for 5-9 year olds confirms this. 





  1. I couldn’t agree more. I knitted our father (who had a 46 inch chest) a cable jumper when I was about 9 and one for myself, with a huge graduated rib-knitted shawl collar at about the same age.

    Sally played the trombone from around 7 years old while I picked up another brass instrument at about 10. We played in a proper band, going out and doing concerts and so on.

    With my own children and grandchildren I’ve used “grown up” language and vocabulary and introduced them to a variety of experiences and skills. If they’re too young, I try again a bit later. As Sally says, this all comes from our own childhood and encouragement from both parents and our lovely and very patient grandmother.

  2. In one way I agree, and in another way not. Children learn a lot from ‘play’, and although school may be less regimented than it was when we were there that doesn’t men that children aren’t learning, just that they’re doing it in a different way.

    But I agree that children (and adolescents) are protected too much, and that makes them less capable as young adults. I regularly see new students (aged about 18) around the Uni who can’t follow a map, can’t work out how to find a room in a building from its number, can’t follow a series of signs. Lost people. Heaven knows how they get on when they travel – or maybe this is the first time they’ve done anything away from their parents?

  3. Many people comment to me that Inigo has very good manners for a child his age, and ask what the secret is. Of course, my sample size is only one, so I have no definitive answer, but I think that high expectations has a lot to do with it.

    And I hope that my high expectations of him don’t interfere with his love of play and enjoyment of childhood!

  4. My niece Alice can knit (though she hasn’t knitted a jumper, just a scarf for her rabbit) and is reading her way through Harry Potter at a rate of knots – she’s JUST 8. I have no problem with school being largely play for the start, but that doens’t mean no expectations, just that those expectations are flexibly applied, and based on enjoyment (my experience is that kids LOVE learning things on the whole!)

  5. GS#1 (under one year old) has been known to sit next to me and watch and listen while I explain to him the mechanics of making a stitch. Can he knit? Of course not; but he is absorbing everything and seeing his mother and I knitting – together and separately – means that it won’t be too long before he wants to try! I guarantee he will have had his first knitting lesson before he sits in his first “big school” classroom! Children often learn well and quickly – when did we decide they are too young?

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