I am about to put on my teacher's hat and get on my hobby horse, so beware.
I read in the paper today that forty percent of pre school age children never have access to a book at home. I also read a piece which talks of children being pushed along in their push chairs while their mums are on their mobiles or fiddling with their blackberries or i-pods or whatever. There is often no effort to point out things they are walking past, or engage the children in any kind of conversation. I was reminded of walking out with my grand-daughter in her pushchair when she was around two years old. Every time we came to a street sign we had to stop so that she could point out to me the 'e' for emily.
There are still schools where children come in at entry level having never seen a pencil and having no concept of what writing is for, where their language skills are poor because they have not been talked to, where their knowledge of everyday things (birds, flowers, shoe laces) is limited. All teachers know this.
Nursery school places are one answer and are doing a marvellous job. But without the backing of the home, the parents, the siblings, the grandparents - children still enter school at a disadvantage. Then, when the same children reach eleven and transfer to secondary education, primary teachers are blamed for some children being behind in their reading skills.
The lady who cleans for me on a Monday morning has just gone. She was telling me about her grand-daughter, who is five. My cleaner and her husband have just joined the National Trust and one of the 'free gifts' on entry was a tiny pair of binoculars. They have given theirs to the grand-daughter and yesterday she was bird spotting and kept saying "You'll never believe how good my eyes are at spotting things!" Now today, her grandmother is off to look for a simple bird book so that she can identify the garden birds.
Nursery schools, primary schools, secondary schools all have an important role to play of course. But parents should remember that children spend only approximately on eighth of the hours in a year actually in school. One bedtime story every night, cuddled up on the bed together, would make all the difference.
##A friend's wife bought him this splendid birthday present a short while ago. Thought you would like to admire it. The farmer was taken for a spin in it yesterday.