The family at the centre of early learning
The family at the centre of early learning

This free course is available to start right now. Review the full course description and key learning outcomes and create an account and enrol if you want a free statement of participation.

Free course

The family at the centre of early learning

2.1 Cerys goes to London

You will see these aspects of companionable learning in this vignette about five-year-old Cerys’s day out with her grandparents.

Example 1: Cerys’ trip to London

Cerys’s grandparents took her to London to visit ‘Big Ben’ as she had often talked about ‘Little Ben’ near where her grandmother works and a ‘Baby Ben’ near where she lives. Cerys helped to buy tickets and deal with the money, and the family talked about their journey to London on the train.

When they were looking towards Big Ben from across the river at the London Eye, Cerys’s grandmother gave her a camera. At first she took photos looking downwards through the criss-cross bars of the London Eye towards the floor below where the people appeared as ‘little dots’. Later, her grandfather took a picture of Cerys with her grandmother in front of Big Ben, indicating the size of the people compared to the monuments and reflecting part of Cerys’s interest in the monuments themselves. But it also introduced her to mathematical concepts such as proportion, perspective and looking from different angles – concepts that are valuable frameworks for developing problem-solving skills and empathy.

Described image
Figure 2 Cerys’s photograph from the London Eye

They went to a restaurant in London’s China Town, where Cerys chose noodles, like her grandparents. When the owner asked the family what they would like to drink, her grandparents asked for Chinese tea. Cerys replied, ‘I would like some Chinese lemonade, please.’

Described image
Figure 3 Cerys reading the newspaper

On the way home, a passenger had left a newspaper on the seat of the underground tube train. Cerys snapped it up and sat in the same pose as the man who had left it. She moved her head from side to side, reading the paper as the train took them home.

Cerys’s grandparents facilitated her place as a decision maker by following her lead, looking at things of interest from her perspective, adding to Cerys’s sense of wonder. The message that Cerys received from her grandparents was that they thought she was worth listening to and was a competent person in her own right. Cerys actively drew on social and cultural cues or prompts from her grandparents to help her know what to do, such as taking photos, counting money and ordering a drink. They moved between facilitating opportunities for Cerys’s explorations of Big Ben and the ‘little dots’, participation (taking photos, ordering herself a drink) and directly intervening (showing her things, role-modelling and making conversation). She was allowed time and space in an unhurried day, and she took advantage of this by exploring. She was able therefore to bring her own purpose to the activities, formulating her own questions and different ways of understanding.

Cerys’s grandparents provided a secure boundary through an authoritative, gentle but firm approach. Through their undivided attention, she enjoyed a strong sense of belonging. By using appropriate prompts and vocabulary (‘look over there’, ‘opposite’, ‘Big Ben’, ‘up’, ‘down’, ‘across’), Cerys’s grandparents shared communication as they learned together from the day’s activities. Cerys learned more about her grandparents’ love, empathy and playfulness, and they learned similar things about her. Their day of companionable learning together added to everyone’s sense of well-being.

You can see from this snapshot that learning within the family can be a rich and sophisticated experience for children. In contrast, more formal learning situations, such as in school, can be associated with a seeking ‘the answer’ and a ‘hurry-along’ curriculum (Dadds, 2002). The learning that children experience in such family situations is holistic. It does not focus on particular subjects or skills, as they are learning about many things at the same time.

Activity 2

By signing in and enrolling on this course you can view and complete all activities within the course, track your progress in My OpenLearn. and when you have completed a course, you can download and print a free Statement of Participation - which you can use to demonstrate your learning.

Click on 'SIGN IN to enrol' to get started.

You can find out more about registering and OpenLearn in our FAQs.

Key points

  • In family situations, learning can be seen as a shared, companionable activity.
  • Companionable learning promotes decision making, belonging, communication and well-being.

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has over 40 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to university level study, find out more about the types of qualifications we offer, including our entry level Access courses and Certificates.

Not ready for University study then browse over 900 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus