Mind the gap

My eldest reminded me the other day, in the midst of some tricky maths homework, that a great teacher had once told her to ‘use what you know to find out what you don’t know’.  (Yes, I’m talking about you Richard Brown…) This is useful advice, and not just when it comes to homework.

So much of raising children involves information gathering. We all know that kids’ brains are little sponges, soaking up new messages daily, while our leaky older ones drip, drip the wisdom away. We pump our little ones full of facts and rules at school, and we have high expectations of them at home too: things they should know how to do; independent decisions we think them capable of taking. We encourage investigation and learning all the time. That is, except for the times when we’d like them to shut down their whirring thought processors for the night, (‘for the last time, will you please settle down and go to sleep’.)

And we are selective in what we expose them to. We try to prevent our children from hearing distressing world news (until such time as we deem them ready to understand it) and we’d rather they were kept in the dark about the details of ‘growing up’ for a few more years yet. We only want them to hear our version of events: a steady drip feed of information on a need-to-know basis.

And then sometimes you assume your kids know more than they actually do… We have been on tours of two prospective secondary schools with our eldest recently, gleaning plenty of information and asking lots of pertinent questions (such as, ‘what non-core GCSE options do you offer?’), in an effort to build a picture of the schools. So far so good. Our information gathering was going well, until P asked a few days later, ‘what is a GCSE?’. We had over-looked one vital fact. In this decision, one of the key stakeholders is 10 years old. We assumed her starting point of knowledge is roughly the same as ours. But it is not. She has not, after all, ever been to secondary school before, nor sat a GCSE, nor made any significant life decisions. With no framework of expectations, how is one supposed to know what to expect?

Without a crystal ball, there is no telling what kind of experience P will have in either school, but I think I will use what I know to find out what I don’t. I know that P is a strong, empathetic, big-thinking girl with the courage of her convictions, so for now, I’m happy to use that knowledge to plug the gaps in what I can never possibly know – what the future holds.