Saturday, 21 August 2010
Books about infants
I don't know, pictures of sunflowers do bring to mind small children - that seems a good enough reason.
(As an aside, my sunflowers have been hugely disappointing, or more accurately dwarfishly disappointing. Only two made it to adult size, and this one was about 18 inches high, with the other not much better. Pretty, but tiny - do you think it's catching?)
So, I've now read all four of John and Elizabeth Newson's books following the progress of children in late seventies Nottingham. To recap, they began with Patterns of infant care in an urban community, went through Four years old in an urban community, and then did parallel studies Seven years old in the home environment and Perspectives on school at seven years old (number 40). The books followed (as far as possible) the same group of children across these stages (the intention was to follow them to adulthood but I can't find any evidence that they got past 7), documenting their parents' approach to child-rearing and trying to describe trends and patterns.
It's perhaps not the type of book that would appeal to everyone - certainly you'd need to be interested in child development, for a start, and in the 7-year-old ones in particular it helps if you're interested in numerical as well as narrative analysis. But I say this to be deliberately balanced: in fact, I can't imagine how anyone could fail to be mesmerised by pages and pages of quotes on attitudes to (say) smacking, bedtimes, freedom, imaginative play - and then how these affect the child's attitudes and behaviour as he becomes older. While there is a certain amount of, not snobbery, but gentle explanation of ways in which one might find the middle classes better, it's definitely not written with an agenda of rich=good or anything close. In fact, after four volumes in which they are scrupulously inconclusive, it's really surprising when at the end of the fourth they become quite definitive. It appears that taking generally accepted measures of "success" for a seven year old (based on things like school tests at the time, which I don't think have much in common with current day SATs) and also teacher descriptions of children's apparent well being and happiness, the piece of parental behaviour that most strongly correlates with the child's "success" is simply, when the child asks a question that the parent doesn't know the answer to, the parent's working with the child to find out the answer, either by looking it up together, or asking a neighbour, or reasoning it out. The authors contrast this with other approaches like "bamboozlement", or changing the subject, or making something up, and look at a pile of other aspects of upbringing, but it's this one that it seems everything's tied to.
I would pay good money to see a comparable set of studies done today (and I wish they'd been able to follow up these particular children for longer). If I ever have children of my own, I will be going back to all of these.