Athena, my six-year-old daughter, is honestly one of my favourite travelling companions. Even when we’re stuck in a traffic jam on Shaikh Zayed Road, her engaging conversation is more than enough to keep me company. We very rarely rely on technology to keep her occupied, because she has an appreciation of the world around her that comes from being exposed to a wealth of poetry, music and language from before she could even talk.
Children – babies included – have an amazing ability to appreciate and absorb classical works, such as Shakespeare, even if they don’t understand the meaning. Language is not just words but also expression – be it verbal or non-verbal – and we often restrict what our children are exposed to because we assume that they cannot possibly make sense of it. Fair enough, vocabulary takes time to build, but a child will understand a Shakespearian sonnet at the level of their reality, and build upon this understanding as they experience more in life.
There’s so much drama in poetry and children naturally love rhythm and adore rhyme. Allowing them to recite and perform brief vignettes adds to the richness of their experience. The simplified versions of language that we give children have no depth. It’s such a shame that we restrict them in this way when we could be exposing them to the classics and allowing them to experience the richness of prose, which can only serve to further their imagination.
Children growing up in the UAE are lucky. They have a fantastic array of experiences to participate in and so many cultures to explore. Yet, these days, it’s common to see families sitting together, but not communicating because they are all on their phones. We lose out on opportunities to connect with our kids because we’re absorbed by our phones and the internet.
Also, before the internet, if we were interested in something we would read about it. But now we google it and skim read about it. People say that children have short attention spans, but actually it is adults who are unable to concentrate for sustained periods of time. Learning is not just about intellectual presentation of data; without the social and physical aspects of learning – meaning family discussions, researching and bringing the topic to life – it is incomplete.
By giving children a curious perspective on the world around them, we give them a love of learning that goes beyond phones and computers – one that they experience first hand and will take with them as they go through life.
Teaching our children should be part of our lifestyle. As soon as we think, “Let’s teach them something,” we often find ourselves stuck. Why do we think an effort should be made to learn? It’s about exposure and experience – how often do we accidently find ourselves teaching our children something because they have overheard a conversation, or seen something that fascinates them? We expose children to more than we realise, yet give them ‘babyfied’ versions of the world when they are capable of so much more than that.
This is not to say that there is anything wrong with the education system. But in my mind, education is an academic skill, whereas learning is a life skill. Creativity and a genuine love of learning can be difficult to teach, but expose children to things that they enjoy from a young age, and they will grow up with an appreciation for being able to discover, create and understand.
In today’s world it’s important to embrace the new, but it’s even more important not to forget the old. The things a young child does not understand are those things that we do not present to him or her. So indulge them in sonnets, and watch their eyes light up when role-playing the three witches of Macbeth. It will certainly ease the boredom of Dubai traffic jams.
Masterminds Education nursery is opening this year, taking children from age two to six. Visit www.masterminds.ae.