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

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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

About 30 minutes

In the following film clip you will meet Viola, a girl who lives in Pistoia, a city in northern Italy. You will hear her parents talking about her day and what this involves, with a focus on her activities outside her time at the nursery she attends regularly. Watch the video below, and as you watch, build up a picture of all of Viola’s learning experiences with her family. Draw on both the action that you see and what her parents say about her daily routine.

You may find it useful to watch the clip two or three times, so as to get a ‘feel’ for the film and what is said first, before you go on to review it in greater detail later.

Download this video clip.Video player: e109_2016j_vid049-320x176.mp4
Skip transcript


When Viola is not at the nursery, she often sees her grandparents.
She enjoys doing the same activities with her grandparents that she does at home, reading books, going to the park, playing on the slide, the swings and twice a week she goes to the baby dance class, because she is too young to attend dance classes, her physical development is not at the right stage, and this activity is not offered till the age of three years, but she really enjoys dancing.
After the nap, we don’t know what may happen today, but normally they have a snack, although today Giorgia has already had some milk so she might not want anything. Viola will have a snack and then we will engage in some play activity, reading a fairy tale. She might want to use some of the toys in the room, as she often does, for example blocks, the toy kitchen, the castle with the dolls, there is a variety of things she can do.
Pull it up, pull it up properly. This is a nice one.
This one. No, this one. Where has it gone?
This one, have a look at this one.
Go on, finish it.
This one, turn it over. Go on.
The other way round. Go on, Viola.
Mmm, well done. Let’s do ‘hurray, hurray to Viola’ – ‘hurray, hurray, hurray!’
Give her a kiss.
I want to put the crown on.
Give her a kiss. Come here, give a kiss to Giorgia. Will you give her a kiss?
Listen, shall we finish the puzzle?
I also want to put the dress on.
Not the dress, not now not the dress. Wear the crown. Here it is.
Want the dress too.
Come on, Viola.
No, Mum. I want the dress like Elsa.
Like Elsa? But this is for a dancer, not like Elsa. Come here, the coat hanger is still attached.
Wait, wait …
Listen, would you like to finish the puzzle? No, that goes on top.
Are you going to wear it? Are you going to help her?
Are you going to wear it?
Go on.
Hi! I am Elsa!
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List each of Viola’s learning experiences in the box below.

When you have finished watching the clip and noting your observations, look at your completed list, and write a couple of sentences in the box below, about what strikes you about Viola’s learning experiences with her family.

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Observations from the clip

You probably noted that, outside nursery, Viola is involved in a wide range of learning experiences both with her parents and her grandparents. These activities involve play both indoors and outdoors, as well as interactions with different people outside the family group – for example, at her dance class. You also get a sense that engaging in these learning activities is part of the family routine, part of their unique family culture. The experiences that Viola’s parents talk about are also a clear example of ‘companionable learning’. Viola experiences a sense of belonging from the attention of those closest to her. They share communication between each other, and there is a concern for Viola’s well-being (snacks and naps are built into her routine at home). Finally, her parents recognise her as a decision maker. They describe the choices she makes when they play with her in her bedroom, and we see her deciding to dress up as a ballerina at the end of the clip.

Key points

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

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