Delphine was the first baby I ever knew. I was the baby of my family – I had no younger siblings or cousins, so I didn’t have any exposure to babies when I was a child. In adulthood, I was only the second of my social circle to have a baby. All I knew about babies was that I wanted one.
Fortunately, for me and for Delphine, I had amazing role models: my in-laws. They showed me, by example, how to hold her, how to carry her, talk to her, read to her, and play with her. They showed me how to make every object in the house an interesting artifact to be shown to and discussed with the baby; every object including the ones with text on them. Through my in-laws I learned to show Delphine letters and words, to sound them out, to talk about the shapes of letters and the sounds they represent. She and Cordelia and their baby cousin Charlie were saturated in text ever since they could focus on it.
So I was surprised when I asked a four-year-old of my acquaintance whether her name started with A or H (Anna or Hannah) and she couldn’t tell me. I was more surprised when a friend reported with pride that her son had come home from kindergarten and spelled his name for the first time. How, I thought, do you send a kid off to kindergarten without being able to spell his own name?
It turns out most people don’t have in-laws like mine, or any other role models to teach them how to introduce their children to the world of reading. That’s why I couldn’t agree more with this call to extend schooling to younger children. I don’t mean sitting-in-desks, worksheets-and-homework school, I mean the kind of excellent research-based, play-centred early childhood education that is offered in Ontario’s registered daycares. (At least all the daycares my kids were in.) And I’m not suggesting that kids be taken away from their parents for hours every day; I like the idea of a combined drop-in centre/childcare/kindergarten which is available at low or no cost to whoever chooses to use it, and allows children to participate at the pace that works for them and their family. And I really like the idea of putting such centres into Toronto’s underused schools, instead of closing schools and forcing kids to bus or travel further.