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Education & Development

Michael Morpurgo on childhood

Updated Friday 15th September 2006

Find out about the man behind the voice in the invention of childhood - the presenter of The Invention Of Childhood in his own words.

Michael Morpurgo Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Michael Morpurgo The series 'The Invention of Childhood', is presented by children's writer Michael Morpurgo. Here he gives his thoughts, views and personal memories on the subject of childhood.

There is a great nonsense, and it can be damaging nonsense too, that when we grow up we leave our childhood behind us, that childhood is simply the road we go down to arrive at adulthood, that it has little significance other than that.

I was brought up to believe that we should ‘put away childish things’. The word ‘childish’ was itself a pejorative one, and is still often used as such.

What I have learned however, is that the child really is the father of the man, that the growing time we call childhood is a distinct period in each of our personal histories, a time so different that much of it we remember very acutely, that what happens to us during it makes us who we are.

The child in us is always there, often hidden, sometimes deliberately abandoned or shunned, but it is always going to be part of us, like it or not.

The memories of my own childhood are very vivid. Born in 1943, I grew up in London just after the Second World War, carried the ration book for my mother when we went shopping, played in bombsites, talked to the milkman’s horse.

I went to the local primary school, drank cold school milk in playtime, through a straw, went off to boarding school in Sussex and learnt Latin and French and Rugby and enough survival techniques to endure the regime.

I climbed trees, stole pigeons' eggs and blackbirds' eggs, tried to run away and failed. I thrived at my public school, an ancient place in the shadow of Canterbury Cathedral, that resonated with music and literature, and smelled of cabbage and polish and urine.

Here I became a man, but didn’t put away childish things.

I was soon a teacher, then a father, all the while convinced that childhood is the most significant and enriching era in anyone’s life, so began, with my wife Clare, a charity we called ‘Farms for City Children’. In the last 30 years, over 60,000 children have come down to the three farms that 'Farms for City Children' now runs.

Here they become mini-farmers for a week, feel useful, believe that what they can contribute is worthwhile, that they can make a difference.

They also learn where their food comes from, how it is grown, that salmon return to spawn in the same river they are born in, that rivers have to be clean for that to happen, that rain is not a nuisance, but a blessing.

During all this I became a grandfather to seven children, all now living their childhoods to the full, drinking in the world around them, experiencing its joys and sorrows.

So in some way or other I’ve lived, worked and breathed childhood all my life. I’ve lived it again too in the one hundred or so books I’ve written.

Then one day I’m asked to present a 30 part series for BBC Radio 4 on childhood, and to help write it too.

And I find myself on a journey of discovery as intense as childhood itself. Here was an aspect of childhood I had known very little about, the history of it, the invention of it.

It is a story I have found often disturbing, and always enlightening. And it’s a universal story, for each of us in our way has lived and invented our own childhood.

Childhoods, I have discovered, may have changed, been reinvented through the ages, but children have not.

The Invention of Childhood in more depth:


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