Good Ideas. How to Be Your Child's (and Your Own) Best Teacher, by Michael Rosen - book review: A spirit of enquiry makes learning child's play


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The Independent Culture

Objecting to the phrase "As dull as ditchwater", GK Chesterton insisted in one of his essays that, "Naturalists with microscopes have told me that it teems with quiet fun." He would surely have enjoyed this latest book from the writer, poet, educational agitator, broadcaster and former Children's Laureate Michael Rosen. He too has remained curious about everything, and seeks here to convey his own spirit of enquiry to others but most particularly to parents.

A warning at this point. As the small child once replied when his mother suggested he go to his father to answer a general question she was unsure of: "I don't want to know that much about it!" Autobiographies are crammed with accounts of pushy parents or overbearing teachers alienating children by over-loading them with too much information at the wrong time or in the wrong way. But Rosen believes that getting others interested is always best done through first being interested oneself. In the world of literature, for example, it is those who really love books who seem best at creating the same enduring interest in younger readers. Adults who approach reading as a form of duty may have lost the battle before they have begun.

Nothing ever seems to have come over as intrinsically boring to Rosen as he roams cheerfully in these pages over his childhood memories. Life lessons derived from lodgers, pets, word games, holidays, invading hornets and even his father's botched efforts at DIY are all allotted their place in his intellectual development. From these recollections and later on from his experience as the parent of five children and step-father to two more, he explores the different ways in which ordinary events can always be turned into valuable but also fun learning experiences. Science experiments in the bath, singing rounds, days out, quizzes and puzzles are all recruited as practical ways of discovering more about the ideas, knowledge and culture surrounding us but often simply taken for granted.

It helps that he can draw on a happy and creative childhood and then went on to have offspring of his own, all apparently eager to share his enthusiasms. But what about those other children resistant to almost everything a dedicated parent or teacher tries to suggest? Rosen has nothing to say here, but by including so many ideas for making family life a springboard for further exploration he does at least provide some of the tools needed when trying to get through to any child.

It would be hard for an adult to come away from this engaging study without at least one very good idea for what to do next when there seems nothing else to do.

John Murray £16.99. Order for £14.99 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030