Carpet time is the soft option

13th May 2005 at 01:00
Children beginning school aged five have a mental age ranging from two to eight. The solution to their obvious boredom when kept sitting on carpet, craning at a teacher's knees, is certainly to reduce their "carpet time" to, say, 15 minutes a day ("What I really hated in school today", TES, April 15). Even benches give more comfort and better viewing.

But "settling into school" activities should not just involve sand and water play and role-play corners. Schools should also preview the delights of learning and encourage children's natural curiosity.

TV-bred five-year-olds can be restless. From the start, we need to give them more open-ended opportunities to explore the real world and their possible futures at home as well as school.

This could involve construction using tools, nature study, scientific experiments, browsing encyclopaedias and magazines, dancing, sketching, self-help in learning to read with DVD, and "tidying-up" games.

Childhood is designed for learning, with children rather than teachers asking the questions. I have often seen the difference it makes to a child's life whether their first teacher is brilliant or has no imagination.

"What did you learn in school today?" Not even in the first days - especially in the first days - should any child learn to think "Nothing".

Children are often so disappointed that their first day at school is "mucking around" when they thought they were into something big. They revise their expectations and behaviour downwards.

The enthusiasm for acquiring knowledge at age 12 can depend upon whether that was stunted or encouraged at the age of five.

(Dr) Valerie Yule (formerly schools psychologist and teacher) 57 Waimarie Drive Mount Waverley, Victoria Australia

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