She’s Only A Child9 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.