It is quite amazing to observe the speech development of Number One Son and compare it to that of his peers. When I go to collect him from the nursery, his friends in the nursery often inform me where he is and what he has been up to. However, Number One Son is only now starting to engage in continuous communication with his parents. Mainly with single words or socially rooted idioms, such as ‘O-oh!’ and ‘Oh dear!’. I am delighted that he has started to explain things – no matter if only on a very basic and rudimentary scale. Naturally, even if I would like him to do this in Finnish, but after all, I want him to start communicating, so currently I am trying to improve his English vocabulary.
Only now, when he is already three and half, he is engaging properly into pointing at images in picture books and repeating simple words like ‘cat’ and ‘chicken’ and taking part into a memory card game. For a year speech therapists have been promoting these strategies together with using simple sentences to describe what Number One Son is playing with in order to introduce the use of verbs and expand his vocabulary. I and Archaeologist Husband have been using these strategies, but only recently Number One Son has started taking part properly and showing interested in words. However, he is not stupid, since he recognizes many letters and can count low numbers. Just the other day he was counting autumn leaves on the pavement up to five or so.
This turns my attention to some recent opinions presented by the current Education Secretary Michael Gove. He has warned that “children are arriving at primary school incapable of learning because of their ‘chaotic’ home lives”. He has also been horrified that four- and five-year-olds are arriving to school in nappies and they are unable to speak in sentences or distinguish between letters and number. With my current experiences in the difficulties of potty training and bringing up a late speaker, I am feeling very much like siding with the parents, even if it may be easier for some parents to keep putting the nappies on instead of dealing with potty training. However, these recent remarks seem to be totally bypassing any notion that the child development is not something that happens at the same time with every child – as the experiences with Number One Son show. I feel deep sympathy towards working-class parents who are basically being demonised. Number One Son has not shown any inclination towards accelerated development, even if he has two highly educated parents, eats plenty of fruit and next to no crisps, is taken to museums and country parks. He has basically ignored every attempt to make him to take part in a sing-along in the playgroups he has been dragged to and cannot lured to sit down with the placid children to sit down and listen to a book somebody else has chosen.
It is scary that Conservatives who do want a smaller state are perfectly happy suggesting that the children who are not developing quickly may need intervention, even if he wants to exercise a degree of restraint. One can only hope that this intervention, even if he refers to the parents who create circumstances so chaotic that instead of neglect they are actively harming their children by failing to create a nurturing environment, will be more speech therapists, Sure Start centres and special tuition and not about taking children simply into care. Somehow those in politics responsible for early education should find an understanding that some children, still inside the parameters of ‘normality’, do not learn properly speak until later – no matter how much their parents try to influence them. In addition, it is the question of poverty, both financial and intellectual, that makes people to struggle – something Conservatives do not want to recognize. It has been suggested that Gove does not change his mind, so one can only hope that the education specialists can keep the agenda of individual development alive beneath him instead of testing reading at four or five and having rigid measures for developments at a young age. These rigid ideas are not restricted to the Conservatives but have been presented by Labour politicians, too, such as Labour MP for Nottingham North Graham Allen.