What Every Parent Needs To Know: How To Help Your Child Get The Most Out Of Primary School by Toby Young & Miranda Thomas, book review


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The Independent Culture

An infant at nursery school is contentedly pushing a toy bus around a sand tray. Passing by and glancing at the tracks he had just made his teacher utters a small shriek: "Look – you have just traced a rhomboid!" Cue for general puzzlement before she wanders off and the infant resumes his game, none the wiser. This actually happened.

Watering a young plant is well and good, but flooding it is another. This book, written by two authors closely involved with their own large families, could serve either function.

It is crammed with useful websites and ingenious apps while also offering patient and detailed explanations about what exactly the new National Curriculum consists of and how best to approach it. But there are also regular sections called "What you can do to help" and this is where — despite the authors' warnings about parental over-enthusiasm in applying these suggestions — there could be trouble.

In My Early Life Winston Churchill describes how his first introduction to sums by his governess "cast a steadily gathering shadow over my daily life. They took one away from all the interesting things one wanted to do in the nursery or in the garden. They made increasing inroads upon one's leisure. One could hardly get time to do any of the things one wanted to do". It would be sad if this well-intentioned book ended up having the same effect on some families.

For there are almost too many good ideas here, plus some truly wacky ones hardly worth the time and effort. Make your own sea glass "by taking a piece of broken glass — from a milk bottle or a jug, say — and placing it in a jar with sand. Close the lid and shake"? "Electrifying your daughter's doll's house" to provide a greater understanding of science? Not allowing "your child to see you using the percentage button on your calculator" as an incentive for working out percentages for themselves?

Going through all these particular sections is to walk into a blizzard of advice for improving each shining hour so remorseless that the idea of doing nothing at all by way of response becomes more attractive page by page. Time-limiting the use of television and play stations to encourage children to use their own resources is one thing. But turning home into an active extension of school is to forget that children have rights too, not least to pass as much as possible of their leisure time in their own way and at their own speed.