Last week the BBC’s Today programme has recently ran a story about ‘Children who don’t know their own name’. During the program Sanchia Berg interviewed Neil Wilson, Headteacher, and Government ‘Communication Champion’ Jean Gross.
The story looked at why a significant minority of children arrive at school not knowing their own name. This morphed into a wider discussion about speech, language and communication difficulties in young children.
This is a complex area of real importance and so it was interesting to hear some healthy debate about the possible impact on children’s literacy development of baby buggies.It may sound like a sideshow but there is research that seems to indicate that forward-facing baby buggies may impede a child’s literacy development. In this area it’s oracy (the ability to understand spoken language and to express oneself)that seems to be the problem. In a forward-facing buggy the child may hear what is said by but can’t see the face of the person pushing it. Seeing the face of a speaker is very important in terms of spoken language development.
Few parents will have heard of the 2011 National Year of Communication, fewer of the Government Communication Champion and very few about the importance of oracy on the literacy skills development of young children. Yet all will have purchased and/or used a baby buggy. There is a rich history of parental discussion about the relative merits of a Silver Cross pram vs the£2000+ some parents are willing to spend on a carbon-fibre, leather-seated model from Maclaren or a Bugaboo trimmed in Missoni fabric.
For many parents buying a buggy is another part of how they attempt to define themselves socially and economically. Given the educational aspirations of many parents and their willingness to pay for spurious educational development aids (e.g. Baby Einstein) then buying a forward-facing buggy (designer or otherwise) seems a huge blind spot if, as has been argued, this can have a real impact on the literacy development of their offspring. It’s also ironic that in the baby buggy marketing battle, few if any companies push the possible literacy benefits of models (at any price point) in which the child faces the adult. Perhaps it’s too obvious and my observation of the most expensive strollers perambulating around the streets and parks of West London is that they are pushed by nannies and au pairs with Mummy and Daddy too busy working to do it. These young women (as they seem to be for the most part) often have heavily accented English, and it would be interesting to see whether their charges develop similar accents irrespective of the direction their vehicle faces? They are also multilingualin a country dominated by monolinguists, so if they speak to the child in English plus their mother tongueis any research showing whether these children are also more likely to become multilingual?
Whatever the outcome, if you know someone about to have a baby and who hasn’t yet invested in a buggie, then a gentle suggestion about the educational merits of a rear-facing model may better than discussing issues like how to hire nannies, Steiner schools, fair banding and school catchments. I wrote about this back in 2005 after the National Literacy Trust released a survey that formed part of their Talk To Your Baby (TTYB) initiative
This was also around the time that teaching assistant Mrs AishahAzmiwas suspended (and subsequently dismissed) byHeadfieldCofE Junior School in Dewsbury for refusing to remove her niqab (face veil). Mrs Azmi was a specialist teaching assistant whose role was to help children having difficulty with maths and English;however in the subsequent court action Kirklees Council said, ‘it (the niqab) limited her diction and prevented the children from observing her facial expressions’.