I have been visiting the local primary school for many years supporting the teachers of six-and seven-year-olds in Year 2 by listening to the children read and being another presence in the room to answer questions. Part of the curriculum is for the children to discover how the area where they live may have changed over the years and, as I have lived in the village for more than 40 years, I am invited to share the changes I have observed.
The children always have lots of questions, some showing that they have not quite mastered how we measure time. For example, on one occasion I was asked if I had met Queen Victoria. I may have grey hair and have more than a few wrinkles, but Queen Victoria had died before my father was born in 1906. To a six-year-old child living very much in the present their parents are old, so grandparents are antique and, as I am possibly the same age as some of their great-grandmothers, they may feel I am from the ageless past.
During the Covid-19 lockdown the school was closed but some lessons were conducted online to ensure the children stayed in contact with their teachers and fellow classmates. Owing to the prolonged lockdown, I had not yet met any of these Year 2 children in person, whereas before the lockdown they would have come to know me by my visiting their classroom each week. I agreed to meet with the children at an online session and answer some of their questions as part of their learning about the place where they live.
There was one question that the teacher particularly requested that I answer. I knew that this was an important question for this child and that all the children shared the curiosity. I was also aware that many parents were sitting with their children during the session and I felt the children were rather intimidated by being alone at home and having a parent sitting at their shoulder rather than the normal classroom session where they used to all sit together on the carpet and hands would constantly be flying up to say or ask something.
The question the child asked was:
“Do you believe that there are faeries on the heath?”
My response, which came very naturally was:
“Just because we can’t see something doesn’t mean that it is not there. I don’t expect many of you have seen a spider that can walk across a pond, so maybe you don’t believe it exists, but I have seen lots of them, so I know they are there.
"I have never seen a faerie, but I know there are lots of things out on the heath that I have never seen. Children often see things that grown-ups have forgotten how to see but they are very real to someone who sees them.”
As it was an online session, I was not able to observe the response of any of the children or receive any follow-up comments or questions as they were all on ‘mute’. However, the teacher responded by saying: “That’s a great answer”.
This was a beautiful question as so often young children see things and when they tell their parents or the adults around them about what they have seen or felt, their questions are often dismissed, as in, “They are not real, it is just your imagination”, or “It was just a dream, it’s not real.” The child knows what they have seen and the dismissal and implication that they are ‘lying’ or ‘making it up’ can break the trust between child and adult as well as creating doubt for the child as to whether they can trust what they see and/or sense.
Why is it that we sometimes lose our sense of wonder and magic as we leave our childhood behind? Are we afraid of the unseen world or does the recollection of ourselves not having been honoured when we shared our own experiences as a child set up a recurring pattern as adults of only accepting what we can physically see and touch?
Whatever age we are, we never stop learning. Visiting the children at the school has taught me to meet and honour each child and confirm them in all they feel and deepen their understanding of the world they live in.
Mary A., UK
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