Fun at the beach

J and I have spent the last few days in Northumberland with my parents.  Among our many adventures (posts and pics to follow!), we visited a beautiful beach in Warkworth.  When we arrived, J was exhausted so he had a long sleep under a towel while I read my book.

When he woke up, he wanted to explore so we headed off to see what we could find.  The first thing he spotted was the footprints.  He was excited to draw a trail in the sand with a long stick to follow them down the shore.  He was especially interested in trying to decipher which were dog prints, which were children and which were adults.  After working out that some people were walking bare foot and some must have been wearing shoes “because there were no toe prints”, J decided to see whether he could create footprints which would look like he was wearing shoes when actually he was barefoot!

He squealed with laughter when I couldn’t tell which were his shoeless prints among many other shoe prints.  This sparked an interest in the depth of the footprints so we walked on tip toes, stomping, jumping and on wet and dry sand to see what would happen.  We spent ages talking about pressure and surface area; I remember finding this extremely dull as part of secondary school physics and yet here was a three year old absolutely fascinated because he was in charge of his own learning rather than having it forced upon him!

He began to wonder what else he could draw on the sand.  He decided to write the letters he knew. An m, n, a and s soon appeared, beautifully formed and he asked me to show him how to write other letters.  I know for a fact that if I sat down with J at home and asked him to write some letters for me, he would be bored silly; I know this too from working in the early years in schools.  But on the beach, it was great fun and now we’re home he’s inspired to keep writing too – “Mummy, can we make some more letters like we did on Grandma’s holiday?”

Often in school, teachers tell parents that children don’t seem interested, or with boys especially – that they are “not ready” to do something; the implication being that they are too immature or don’t yet have the motivation to learn.  This to me just seems wrong.  Toddlers are like little sponges, they are full of enthusiasm and have an almost unquenchable desire to learn and find things out.  If children in school are not motivated to write, to read, to count or whatever the teacher is trying to “teach” perhaps the problem isn’t that the children aren’t ready, but that the subject is boring.

Our local authority has recently sent out letters stating that almost all requests from parents to take their children out of school (even for a day!) for a family holiday, visit, family wedding…… will be denied.  If parents choose to take their children anyway, they may be fined £100, even in the nursery year before children reach statutory school age.  Quite apart from issues of whether this should be within the authority’s remit, it just seems counterproductive.

J learnt much more in 2 hours on the beach yesterday afternoon, than he might have done in a week at school.  He practised letter formation, explored rules of pressure, we talked about how rocks become smooth and collected examples, investigated the ridges in the sand, watched the tide go in and out, followed rivers to the sea.  I could go on…..

And not only was he learning, but it was fun.  Why should learning have to be painful? And why should it only take place at a desk?

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