Somebody asked yesterday if I could give some account of the methods which I used in my daughter’s education. Since this brings us neatly back to the topic of home education, I think that this is no bad idea; although I have in the past tended to steer clear of discussing in details my educational techniques.
I have mentioned that I taught my daughter to read at a very early age, but there was more important stuff going on than that. The most crucial aspect of her early years was the programme of enrichment which I devised for her and put into operation. Essentially, this entailed making sure that she had as many interesting experiences as could possibly be fitted into her waking hours. I will focus today upon what, had she been educated by others, would have been the pre-school years, possibly looking in detail in later posts at her primary and secondary years.
The best way of explaining what was being done to increase my daughter’s intellectual ability is too give a few random examples. A full account would weary even the most dedicated home educator to read! I wanted the child by the age of five to be familiar with different types of transport; boats for instance. Of course, I arranged for her to travel in rowing boats, punts and canoes, but this was not really sufficiently stimulating. I made sure that she also boarded a submarine, visited a fishing trawler, explored a warship, clambered about in a lifeboat and travelled down the Thames in a paddle steamer; seeing in the process Tower bridge open to allow the boat through. She needed to know something about mines and so I took her down a coal mine, gold mine, lead mine, iron mine and chalk mine. Of course, for a child of that age, this was not education at all from her point of view; merely a series of glorious adventures.
The animal kingdom was a particularly rich field of endeavour, chiefly concerned with finding ways to baffle the safety precautions which prevent small children from getting close to large and dangerous animals. At London Zoo, they used to have elephants and rhinoceroses. When my daughter was very small, it was possible to dangle her over the side of the enclosure so that she could actually touch the rhinoceros and fondle its horn. The same method enabled her to reach out and touch the elephant’s trunk. At Paradise Park wildlife park in Hertfordshire, a fully grown tiger was laying by the bars of its enclosure. There was a safety barrier, but I never took much notice of such things. I climbed over with my four year-old daughter and allowed her to put her hand through the bars and stroke the tiger. Mercifully, it did not whirl round and tear her arm off. By the age of five, she had stroked, held or fed from her hand the following animals; elephant, giraffe, rhinoceros, camel, zebra, tiger, wolf, lynx, jungle cat, yak, fox, armadillo, crocodile, penguin and many others.
The human brain is extraordinarily plastic in the early years and instead of learning about the world only through the medium of her eyes, as is often the case with children who depend upon television, books and computers; she was able to immerse her senses in those things about which I wished her to learn. Not only seeing a picture or film of a tiger, but actually smelling it and burying her hands in its fur as though she were stroking the neighbour’s cat. There was of course the odd mishap; most notably when a tapir swallowed her arm, but nothing which caused lasting harm.
Now of course most parents take their children to the zoo from time to time, but when my daughter was small, this was her entire life. Not only zoos, but castles, museums, aquaria, farms, army bases; anywhere at all in fact which I felt she might benefit from seeing, hearing, smelling touching and generally experiencing. Of course, the academic work continued alongside this enrichment. In a typical day at the age of three she would be reading half a dozen simple books, being taught to write, learning Chinese, doing simple algebra, visiting a museum and finishing the day at a farm where she would have a riding lesson.
I might mention here that I found all this enormously enjoyable myself and although it was not made explicit, she probably realised even at the age of two or three that the exciting activities were contingent upon her working academically as well.
This is only the briefest account and I have given this only because I was specifically asked to do so by somebody who commented here. I might in the future give accounts of other stages in her development. The results seemed to be satisfactory for both of us, to the extent that we enjoyed each other’s company and she eventually went on to get a place at Oxford. I think that the conversational learning which took place alongside all these various activities deserves a post of its own at some point. Really though, that is enough about my own child, at least for now.