By Terry Dammery
Having been raised in orphanages, it was important that my children should have a better start and so we, their mother and I, decided that Alice and Grace needed a stay at home parent, me – because of my academic interest in things educational.
Living in a small village on the foothills of the Pennines, we wanted Alice and Grace to enjoy the freedom of their environment without becoming feral, to learn without being taught, like Rousseau’s ‘Emile’, and that language should come first. A difficult scenario to implement, but a simple garden swing gave us a good start.
Like most pre-school children, Alice and Grace were bubbling over with things to say and when they said them on the garden swing their language had a particular, noticeable rhythm to it – the rhythm of their swinging. I had read the work of the Opies and realised that we were in the world of Iona and Peter Opie’s Lore and Language of School Children – the rhymes of the two-ballers and the skipping-rope chants, when the way things are said is as important as what is being said.
If schoolyard language supports schoolyard activity, then the obverse is also true – for pre-school children too. Alice and Grace’s language exploded, proliferating into rhymes and chants, metaphors and similes – exponential is probably the word I’m looking for. There was no contrivance, they naturally thought that way and I did too – was there any other way?
The material that was to become the book Dad’s Doodles became a conveyance for learning, a game that was played – words that sounded like poems, little capsules of thought that made something special out of the seemingly mundane, Grace’s Quiet Toast, for example. Eventually they actively looked for things they could talk about, which in turn made them look closer, think harder and deeper. Importantly, I joined in, writing my own thoughts to go with theirs – a conversation that we had.