Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

26 Shevat 5760 - February 2, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Home and Family
Pre-School Education
by A. Ross, M.D. in Speech and Education

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 developmental stage.

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 speak.

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 necessary training.]

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.


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