Babies and toddlers do not fall into the normal remit of education, but they do provide a very clear picture of how, on the one hand, children learn, and, how, on the other it is possible to inhibit the learning process.
No one doubts that babies and toddlers have a powerful motivation to learn new things, and that this motivation comes from within them, rather than from their parents or other adults. This skills that children acquire at this stage of their lives include learning to walk and learning to talk – two of the most fundamental achievements that people make in their whole lives. They also make greater strides towards understanding the world around them, than they do during any of their official years of education. Even though the motivation to learn comes from the child, adults do still have an important role to play: they can provide a child with a stimulating environment and also with a sense of security, both of which are essential.
The Importance of a Stimulating Environment
Children learn through their senses – looking, listening, touching, tasting and smelling things. The more varied their environment, the more they will learn.
The environment in which children grow up today is generally much less stimulating than that which they experienced in the past: most small children spend much of their time indoors, and indoors is inherently less stimulating than outdoors. Even when they are out of doors they are unlikely to be surrounded by the sights and sounds of a really natural, unspoilt environment: often they are hemmed in by buildings, the ground may be covered in tarmac and, in all probability, there will not be the proper abundance of wildlife.
A child is programmed to be born into the world of Nature, and expects a much more varied experience than a man-made environment can provide: they expect, for example, to see the sun rising and setting every day, to see the moon and the stars; to have their days full of bird song, to hear the sound of trees rustling in the wind and the buzzing of insects, and to see the clouds moving across the sky when they look up.
Nature is a world in which everything moves, everything has its own feel, its own taste, its own smell and its own sound. A modern, western home, on the other hand, provides quite a dull environment in comparison – even when it is full of the latest technological wizardry, such as computers and television screens.
People who have the best interests of young children at heart have to recognise these facts, and take the necessary steps to bring Nature into the everyday family life.
A Secure Home
A baby is totally dependent on adults for every aspect of life; this total dependency lasts for several months, and near-total dependency lasts for several years. Over the course of these months and years, children have to acquire the skills that enable them to fend for themselves.
It is the responsibility of adults to make children feel safe and secure as possible during this process. Children who do not have this sense of security become disturbed, and it is not surprising that they cannot concentrate on learning but, instead, start to worry about their personal situation.
A child’s sense of security comes not from places but from people. Children can cope with moving from place to place, providing that they feel personally cared for by the adults who are looking after them.
This means that the importance placed upon employment by our society actually works against the well-being of children. Many children find themselves in the care of childminders from an early age, and experience being looked after by a succession of different adults who come and go in their lives, in what to them must seem like a random fashion. Anyone who makes the effort to remember what this sort of arrangement felt like to them when they were a child, should be able to understand how deeply unsettling it is for children.
The fact that adults are expected to work, and earn their money, in child-free environments, where babies and toddlers are not welcome effectively makes it impossible to provide children with the sort of secure home environment that they need. In the ideal situation, they will surrounded by relatives and neighbours, all of whom take a personal interest in its development, and are independently committed to their long-term care:the ‘home’ not just being confined to the four walls within which their immediate family lives, but the whole area within which they spend their time.
It is impossible to overemphasise the importance of a secure home environment for a young child. What they want is a place where they feel safe and are in the care of people who love them. Children do not learn when do not feel safe, and this is one of the main reasons why schools have become such an abject failure – when they were first started, village schools still existed within the locality within which children felt safe and protected (even if the schoolteachers themselves were not part of the village), but this is no longer the case.