Elsa’s eclectic education
When I was about 10, for some obscure reason my parents gave me a small red spelling book, listing words of increasing length and difficulty. This I treasured, immediately taking it upon myself to tutor my unfortunate younger brother and sister in its contents.
I blame this formative childhood experience for my current obsession with teaching Elsa the alphabet. New toys are carefully scrutinized for their educational possibilities. The flat is awash with alphabet puzzles, posters, books and beads – even biscuit cutters. Luckily Elsa is proving a willing pupil, wholeheartedly embracing this hothouse environment and even voluntarily extending it beyond the confines of our flat.
In Chaterhouse bookstore the other week, mulling contentedly over some potential purchases, my thought processes were rudely interrupted by a squealed “Teddy bear, teddy bear!” I was pleased, though rather disturbed, to discover Elsa pointing triumphantly at the “T” in “Terrorism” emblazoned on a neighboring book cover. Deciding that 2 was not the age for introducing such topics, I said, “Yes, T for teddy bear,” and we hastened off to the children’s section.
Oddly enough, this has been the most conventional of Elsa’s alphabet discoveries. I am constantly amazed at the lateral thinking a toddler can exhibit. “O” – for her best friend Oscar – is proving the most versatile letter. Just recently it was spotted in the shape of the circular shark-viewing windows at the Blue Zoo, though I’m not sure anything will beat its impressive appearance as a toilet seat ring (Western-style).
In fact, Elsa’s enthusiasm for my present educational fixation has got me thinking. I’d always leaned towards genetics in the nature/nurture divide. Witnessing first hand my child’s sponge-like capacity for learning, I’m beginning to appreciate the part upbringing can play. So what does this say for Elsa’s future chances? Well, thanks to my sister, a professional violinist, she knows the names of pretty much all the instruments in a classical orchestra. Never one to be outdone, my mother, a keen pianist, has been at pains to point out to Elsa that “dogs can’t play the piano – they have paws.” (Don’t ask me why this is important but Elsa cites this fascinating tidbit frequently.)
Yet when it comes to science, politics, makes of cars or geography she’s going to be lost. I suppose I had a hunch during pregnancy that the latter would be an issue, because eight months gone I wandered into an upmarket toyshop and handed over an extortionate sum for a talking educational globe. Though the “Find the Capital” game kept me occupied for the tedious last few weeks of my pregnancy, I can’t say much of it stuck, and I’ve already noticed signs that Elsa may be suffering from my lack of prowess in the geography department: Whenever we return home from a trip out, she remarks, “Back in China, Mummy,” seemingly believing this vast land mass only extends a mere five feet from our front door.
Perhaps Ayi can provide some sort of counterbalance. She’s definitely a lot more practical, fixing temperamental electrical appliances and dispatching cockroaches with an ease I envy. And I bet she knows her Santana from her Jetta. I’d be more confident, however, of her value in this regard if I hadn’t caught her red-handed last week drilling Elsa in Chinese characters with a set of homemade flashcards.