I’m sitting in a child-sized chair in a classroom decorated with bright posters around the walls. In front of me is a desk and a pencil and paper.
Help! My daughter has sent me back to school. Apparently, despite being a writer with an English degree, I’m not up to scratch when it comes to teaching my grandchildren to read. At least not according to today’s methods.
“Do you remember how you learnt to read?” the teacher asks us all.
Not really. All I know is that I was apparently an early reader. But I can’t recall the actual mechanics of how I learned the art.
When my three were little, they would come home from school with words in a tin and we’d memorise the shape of each one. It seemed to work because all of mine were fluent by the time they were five.
But somehow – in that space between my children growing up and then having children of their own – teaching methods have changed. Instead we have phonics.
And if I’m going to support my daughter in helping three-year-old Rose (and later, George ) to read, I need to learn all about it.
Luckily, Rose’s nursery school happens to be running a taster session this week. Which is why I am here now, surrounded by other grannies who all look as perplexed as me.
Apparently, you have to break down words into syllables. We are all given worksheets with examples . I can manage that but then it becomes rather hazy. For example the word “night” gets broken down or “segmented” as it’s called into “n” followed by the sound “i” which is “igh” and then the letter “t”.
It’s not as easy as it sounds…
Why not ‘n’, ‘i ‘, ‘g’, ‘h’ and then ‘t’, I ask? Because it doesn’t work that way.
Goodness this is complicated!
“Nonsense,” says my teacher daughter briskly when she summons me for a debrief at the end of the day. “It makes much better sense.”
Really? I find myself sounding like my father who often claims that the old ways are best. Still, I’m determined to keep up with my grandchildren. So I will do my homework diligently!
Mind you, it would be easier if I had more peace and quiet. Nowadays – here I go again! – shopping appears to be done by post. At least that’s the case in my daughter and son-in-law’s household. They seem to order everything online.
But this relies on someone being at home to receive it.
I have to confess that I rely on little George’s one and a half hour nap every day to do my writing.
Today however, is a complete disaster. No sooner am I into my next chapter for next year’s book than the doorknocker goes really loudly.
Because of the way the children’s house is laid out, George is fast asleep in his pram on the other side of the front door. I manage to squeeze past and open it a crack. It is the Amazon man. I just about manage to communicate in a low whisper that he should leave the parcel on the doorstep. “I’m afraid I need a signature,” he whispers back.
So I virtually crush myself between the pram and the front door in order to scrape a fingernail across the screen.
Phew! George is still sleep…
I dash back to the computer. Five minutes later – I am not exaggerating – there is another lock even louder. The postman. Again I indicate with whispers and sign language that he should leave his wares on the doorstep but it’s too late.
George has woken up. Not only has my writing finished for the day but George is also grumpy because he hasn’t slept enough.
There is only one answer. Down to the front for a walk. Once more, I’m reminded of how lucky we are to live by the sea. It’s also part of the world where everyone says hello to each other which, as a native Londoner, I am still getting used to.
“Beautiful day, isn’t it?” says a man walking past, tipping his hat. Then he glances at George. “What a lovely little boy you have.”
“Actually,” I say , “I’m the granny.”
On his face is a look at a surprise. “Really? You look young enough to be the mother.”
I bounce on with a beam on my face. Then I bump into another granny friend and can’t resist telling her about my compliment. “Did he have glasses and a brown hat?” she asks.
“Yes,” I reply.
“He’s always trying out that chat up line,” she says. “You didn’t agree to go out for a coffee with him, did you?”
“Of course not!” I said. “I’m a married woman.”
She raises her eyebrows. “It hasn’t stopped others!”
I walk on, feeling slightly less bouncy.
Then something rather odd happens. I find myself looking at all the notices in shop windows with a slightly different eye. In my head, I am segmenting and blending – two vital expressions when it comes to phonics according to my taster lesson. “F i sh spells fish.”
It’s like learning a new language. In fact, it’s really beginning to come to me. Perhaps phonics is quite a good idea when you think about it. After all, we all have different learning styles.
That’s when I get my idea!
“Come on,” I say to George. “We are going to the printing shop.”
“Goodness me,” says the girl on the other side of the counter. “We’ve never had that request before!”
When my daughter and son-in-law get home that night, I show them my latest purchase proudly.
It reads like this. Please don’t knock! Baby asleep on either side of the door. Please tap on window or leave your parcel on the doorstep.
Yes. That’s right. It’s a laminated notice designed to help George sleep and for me to finish my chapters.
Watch this space. Or rather “th i s” in the world of phonics. At least I think that’s right…
P.S. Has anyone else got a toddler who hides things? We are still looking for the back door key. We’d love to hear your stories on Facebook.