I read in my Saturday paper that at long last pupils will be taught to spell and learn grammar. About time too and the younger the better. When I was a child I enjoyed doing spelling tests every week. I believe that the teaching of English grammar should be started at the same time as children are learning to read and write. This is the practice in some European countries. Another subject that could be taught in primary school is another language.
It is well known that up to a very early age, say 6 to 8, children can easily learn two or even three languages at the same time and we are talking about all normal children, not the brightest ones. The older we get the harder it is for children to learn another language.
I have heard from parents that when their children start school they are often very disappointed because they don’t want to play they really want to learn proper subjects. We have always underrated just how much small children can take in. Of course the methods for this early teaching need to be carefully designed. Let me give you an example. My nephew’s son has a Danish mother. They came to visit us when he was three years old and he was already speaking Danish and English. His wise mother spoke her own language to him from the start in tandem with lots of English from his family and friends.
As we were having lunch his mother was talking with him. “Did you answer in Danish?” I asked him. He looked puzzled and turned to his mother for help. She said “This is how Mummy talks”. His mother cleverly used this phrase instead of the word ‘Danish’. I realised that he could easily move from one language to another, but he hadn’t yet grasped the concept that there were many other languages. He just took all this for granted.
It occurred to me how useful it would be to to learn the grammar at the same time as we are learning the language. I had to wait until I was at grammar school to learn two languages, French and Latin and English grammar. I know I would have learned all this much earlier and easier with skilful teaching leaving me free to go further and faster later on.
If children learn real grown-up stuff, in their eyes, it would be a wonderful boost to their confidence and they would improve, not lose, their ability to concentrate.
One of many mistakes in education changes since I was a child, is giving homework to children under eleven. With good teachers, there is no need. Children need time to themselves to play and read in their own homes and put school behind them until the next day. Even worse, it is another great mistake for parents to try to ‘help’ with homework. That is not a role of parenting. Home is somewhere to relax and rest. There should be no interference between teachers and parents unless there is a serious problem that needs to be examined. However, most teachers who choose their job have the gift of finding their own way of passing on information. Busybodies, i.e. Ofsted, should stay away unless there is a real reason for help.