Home truths

2011-01-28 00:00

“MANY parents assume that stimulating their children requires money for sophisticated equipment and educational toys, so they wait until they go to school for the teachers to teach their children. But it’s not true, they can start at home, they just need to know what to do.”

So says Joanne Madgwick, The Witness’ new parenting columnist, an educational and parenting consultant, remedial teacher, and mother of five children aged from three to 13. “I have a passion to help parents, which grew out of a passion for children and education. Couples are so unprepared for becoming parents — no one teaches them what to do. Before having children, my focus was on helping children with learning problems, but now my heart is for parents. I want to help guide parents on how to help their child gain all the developmental skills they need so that they are ready to learn to read and adjust to formal education, and thus reach their full potential in life.

“Over the last 10 years as a family we’ve worked through many challenges, including a miscarriage, battling to fall pregnant, a 10-year age gap and an 18-month age gap, having a set of twins, moving from one child to five children in two years, and finally, a move from Cape Town to Albert Falls.

“Through all this chaos I’ve always felt confident as I have known how to stimulate and support my children; sometimes through activity and being busy, and at other times by simply reading together. But this made me begin to wonder how other parents cope, who have never been trained how to stimulate and manage children. They have to be concerned about managing daily life and on top of that figure out how to parent and help their children reach their potential. It’s especially demanding in the early years, and often by the time parents feel they have figured things out, their child is 10 years old.”

Madgwick’s wondering led her to start writing on early educational development, run parenting workshops and design a programme to help parents integrate good parenting practice into their busy lives. She also launched a website, Step Up, Stay Ahead (Susa) in order to share her knowledge. She says: “Parents can do a vast amount not only to prepare their children for formal education, but also to prepare them to be learners for life. The brain is a muscle like any other and it needs to be exercised like any other. I want to share with parents how to make their children love learning by extending them and challenging them intellectually all the time. It’s actually a very simple thing to be teaching your children all the time so that they can be learning all the time and develop a passion for learning. For example, in the kitchen, hanging up cutlery on a cutlery rack teaches young children sorting skills and eye-hand co-ordination. When you’re out in the car, noticing and reading signs can help them. There really are lots of simple strategies that are easy to implement daily. The key is to recognise that learning is a process, not a product, and to work from there.”

A few hours spent with Madgwick and her children make it clear that she “walks her talk”. We met in a public garden so the children went off to observe and experience the environment. They came back to record what they saw in a nature book through drawings and prose or poetry. Her interactions with them demonstrated the attitude and approach she espouses. She constantly questioned, pointed things out, affirmed and engaged actively with all five. Clearly a teacher, which she still is, since she and her husband, Neil, a microbiologist, are homeschooling their children. She explained that this was the option that best suited their family, since they live out of town, the children are of different ages and have different needs and interests. “Of course it isn’t right for every family, but it works really well for us,” she said.

• Look out for Madgwick’s fortnightly parenting column in The Witness starting today and visit www.SUSA-parentcenter.com for more information.

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