Do you remem­ber your times table? It serves me well! Not to men­tion recit­ing the alpha­bet when going through the phone book!

What else did we learn by rote mem­o­ri­sa­tion at a young age?

I start­ed attend­ing a pri­vate Catholic pri­ma­ry school (one of only four protes­tant girls in that year) full time before I was 5 years old. No one I knew went to pre-school. Was there even such a thing?

I was taught by nuns of vary­ing sizes who still wore their full black and white habits. I well remem­ber my old school friend meet­ing up with Sis­ter A. in lat­er years when they’d dropped full nun­s’ habit and she said “she has hair!”

But I digress. Mem­o­ri­sa­tion was the method used to teach us all over 50 years ago. It is only recent­ly that I’ve come to under­stand that I was taught to read by (prob­a­bly) the look and say method with some phon­ics thrown in for good mea­sure BUT I wasn’t taught to read in such a way that com­pre­hen­sion was also con­sid­ered important.

I can read well and I can spell well but some­how com­pre­hen­sion eludes me on many occa­sions. My lucky break was that there was no TV in my dark ages!

But at last I can attribute that miss­ing piece of my puz­zle to rote memorisation.

Recent­ly I had yet anoth­er con­ver­sa­tion with a grand­moth­er who said her grand­child was “a late talk­er”. The child has just turned 2 years old.

Since one par­ent works and the oth­er is train­ing to be a physi­cian the child has been in a day­care since she was a year old. Her par­ents are calm and atten­tive but I realise that they fall in my ‘parents in their late 30’s to ear­ly 40’s age group’.

Such old­er par­ents are ‘very atten­tive’ but they tend to use flash cards and edu­ca­tion­al TV a lot – their lives are busy. Some­times they even use sign lan­guage ‘to help their child com­mu­ni­cate’ – it’s real­ly because the par­ents don’t/can’t spend the time with their child to under­stand them and improve the qual­i­ty of their speech! 

If you tune into a child and are around them every day they can usu­al­ly drag you over to what they’re try­ing to tell you about, in fact they ought to drag you over to the object. Then you have a flash of inspi­ra­tion and they are delight­ed that you even both­ered. You thus dimin­ish the preva­lence of the ter­ri­ble two’s (which are now becom­ing the ter­ri­ble three’s and four’s!!)

Now here’s the light bulb moment: such chil­dren are loved cer­tain­ly (hav­ing been in the calm com­pa­ny of this par­tic­u­lar cou­ple I know it to be so) but their child isn’t get­ting much in the way of dai­ly ‘real world’ con­ver­sa­tion with her par­ents or in the out­side world. She is being taught about her world by flash cards and mem­o­riza­tion with her par­ents, and the rest of the time she’s in a day­care – remem­ber, there are no cer­ti­fied teach­ers of the under-3’s in day­care programmes.

The par­ents and grand­par­ents were ini­tial­ly delight­ed that she mem­o­ris­es and says words, knows her colours etc., ‘loves to read’, and then sud­den­ly “she’s a late talk­er”. How does that happen?

Well chil­dren actu­al­ly need to be with you and talked to as though they are the true and impor­tant focus of your attention.

I nev­er used flash cards with my chil­dren or any­one else’s. I now realise I spend very lit­tle time in the first cou­ple of years of a child’s life read­ing to them. 

Speech is my pri­ma­ry focus. (I have two very ver­bal sons and the oth­er chil­dren I taught to speak do so very well). I teach colours, shapes and objects through the real world. A sim­ple walk in the neigh­bour­hood or to the park does the trick. Then after some time, and rep­e­ti­tion of the activ­i­ty, the names of most colours, and many oth­er con­cepts, are total­ly inte­grat­ed into a child’s brain.

It isn’t impor­tant to me that a child points to their nose, eyes and mouth – the pre­ferred way of prov­ing that a child is ‘developing OK’ – I think such things must be on ‘a list’ that reas­sures a par­ent and pedi­a­tri­cian that a child is devel­op­ing ‘well’.

But from flash cards comes lit­tle or no ‘con­ver­sa­tion’ thus they aren’t learn­ing to speak, just to recite words from mem­o­ry. Of course the par­ents are delight­ed with such ‘learn­ing’. It gives them a chance to show off what their child knows. But they often aren’t learn­ing, in real world terms, words and short sen­tences like “up, down, over, under, back up, etc”. Those action/instructional words and sen­tences which we also use ‘to steer’ a child in the right direc­tion are crit­i­cal on occa­sion to keep­ing a child safe from danger. 

Throw in reg­u­lar dai­ly car­toons, ‘educational’ TV and DVD’s and a child hard­ly hears (or sees a face — a lit­tle known crit­i­cal fac­tor in learn­ing to speak!) pro­nounc­ing full and real words and sen­tences about any­thing that mat­ters to them or any­one else in their company.

In the 1940’s Leo Kan­ner com­ment­ed on the abil­i­ty to recite from mem­o­ry as one of the com­mon fac­tors in the first 11 chil­dren he diag­nosed with autism who were also strug­gling with language.

That’s pret­ty scarey stuff!

Get out of the new ‘dark ages of edu­ca­tion”: switch off the TV/DVD’s, throw away the flash­cards (even close the books for the time being) and get out in the real world! 

You’ll have a talk­er in no time!