Many young parents do not realize that a child begins his
education as soon as he is born. Mothers speak to the
children and automatically adapt their tone of voice and
vocabulary to suit the age of the chid. In fact, this way of
speaking has a name. "Motherese" or "Tinokit" is the
way we speak to very young children. A four-year-old sibling
will speak to the baby in the family in a tone of voice
suited to the child. She is also using `Motherese.'
Occasionally a jealous older sibling will begin to talk `baby
talk' to her parents in the mistaken belief that this will
make her more precious or grant her more attention time, like
the baby in the family. It is a rare parent who does not
update his language and vocabulary to suit the child's
Parents are not taught Motherese. They know it instinctively
and intuitively. When a child begins using two or three word
sentences, Mother automatically corrects the grammar, often
not even realizing she has done so. Baby says "I goed walk"
and Mother answers, "You went for a walk?" Or "I drinked
milk" is answered by, "Oh, you drank it all up!"
Conversations like these take place in the home all day and
every day and are the very best way for a child to learn to
But speech is only a part of pre-school education. Basic
concepts are absorbed easily by some children, but others
find them very difficult. This does not mean that they are
any less bright than their peers. Shapes, colors and basic
numeracy skills are usually taught in kindergartens and
nurseries. Even when they are not formally taught, an average
child is fully aware of the difference between half a biscuit
and a whole one before the age of three, as with a small or
large piece of cake. He is also fully aware of the difference
between two raisins and `a lot' before the age of two.
Mothers are the best teachers and have countless
opportunities for informal teaching. Examples of numeracy
skills arise in the home every day. There were five cakes on
the plate and you ate one. There is a wheel missing from that
car. How many are there now? We are having two guests for
Shabbos; how many places shall we set? How many cookies do we
need for all the children to get one? The list is endless.
The more parents put into their child, in general concepts,
the more alert and skillful the child will be when he begins
his formal education. He will have been given the push to
think, ask and answer questions.
Parents mistakenly think that it is important to teach the
alef beis at a very early age. If it gives Abba
pleasure and if he feels he is instilling yiras
shomayim into the child, he can not really do any harm by
introducing the letters to his child -- without pressuring
him in his learning! But as soon as there is the slightest
reluctance to `learning,' the child should not be coaxed into
it. I have seen countless children at the age of seven or
eight who are still unable to read and the parents complain
that he knew all the letters when he was three or even two!
He might have had a reading problem even without having been
coaxed from an early age, but these children have a positive
dislike and even fear of the written word.
However, there are some concepts which are often ignored in
the home, or parents assume that the child has absorbed them
by some form of osmosis. Let us take the example of the
concept of relationships. Children between the age of eight
and ten are frequently brought to me because they don't know
what is going on in the classroom. And indeed, when
questioned about the weekly parsha, their knowledge is
peculiarly vague. When parents ask them to repeat any story
they have heard, many children are quite unable to do so.
Although parents believe that the child is holding out on
them and that he really does know the stories, they often
approach an experienced person for assurance.
After some questioning, the fact comes to light that their
child is lacking some basic knowledge. He may not know the
difference between: brother, father, husband and son. Because
of this, he cannot grasp the gist of the story. Such children
frequently `switch off' at story time because they feel they
don't understand, anyway.
Mothers can help their children in this field from a very
early age. When a new baby arrives, the child has a new
brother or sister. Then Mother has to elaborate. How many
brothers / sisters do you have? How many brothers does a girl
in the family have? How many children does Mother have? Why
is this figure greater? The question will arise about first
children or only children. Mothers will have to use their
unlimited ingenuity [and perhaps `borrow' neighbors for
examples]. A slightly older child will learn about uncles and
aunts, cousins and grandparents. Parents who tell stories to
their child and involve family relationships are doing him a
great service. It is important to remember that although you
are convinced that the child has understood a point, he may
have forgotten it a few weeks later.
Social skills are also frequently ignored in the home. A
child who starts school being able to blow his own nose,
fasten his own shoe laces (blessed be the inventor of Velcro
on children's shoes), take off and put on his own coat,
identify it etc., is not only at a great advantage; he also
endears himself to the busy teacher as an asset in the
classroom. It is a fact of life that once a teacher has taken
a liking to a particular child, that child will thrive. [We
can also add that teaching a child to help her siblings, and
others, as an extension, is not only social education, it is
a vital aspect of chessed chinuch and broadening his
horizons to beyond his own ego. Mothers can provide this
Efficient pre-school education is invaluable. A child
benefits from it throughout his primary school years. It
gives the child self confidence and a feeling of assurance.
However, there is one common mistake made by parents who are
anxious to further their child's education. Let us take for
example a two-year-old who seems to be a jigsaw puzzle whiz.
By three he is doing thirty piece puzzles at great speed. So
mother buys some puzzles with forty-eight puzzles. To her
dismay, he loses all interest in jigsaw puzzles. He has been
pushed too far. Let him do the twenty piece one for the
hundredth time. Let him play with the toy which you think is
far too easy for him. Mothers are wise and blessed with a
huge amount of intuitive common sense. It is the media,
articles, advertisements and peer pressure which tempts them
to move to the next stage too rapidly. Consolidation of
knowledge gained is frequently as useful as new knowledge.