When it comes to packing for a few nights away or a family holiday, I'm a planner. I quite enjoy making a list of what we're going to need and crossing things off as I pack them. For me, it's part of the holiday build-up, as thinking about what we'll need to take gets me excited about the adventures we have in store. My husband is the opposite. He's more of a 'shove everything HE needs in a bag 10 minutes before we leave' kind of person, which I find incredibly irritating.
We are imminently heading off for a weekend away in a caravan. For the first time, our 6-year-old has taken a real interest in the packing process. If I'm honest, I had to hold in a sigh when she appeared in her room and wanted to get involved, knowing that the whole process was now going to take twice as long, but I managed to muster up some enthusiasm about her ‘helping’.
It turned out to be quite an entertaining half-hour. I put aside my carefully prepared list, and instead, we talked through where we were going, the activities we might do when we were there and what we might need to take, with my daughter collecting the different items together as we went along. It struck me afterwards that the activity and the conversation that came with it had been a lovely practical way to develop her ability to sub-categorise, to reason, to justify decisions and to use her knowledge of the world to make inferences.
We started by agreeing on how many outfits she would need to take for a 3-night trip. When she'd picked out her outfits, we spent some time discussing the pros and cons of her choices. For example, what were the potential problems with choosing a short-sleeved summer dress and sandals for a caravan holiday in Kent in May? If we were discounting the summer dress, were there any other summery clothes we might need to take out of the bag (I’m looking at YOU pink shorts…). What would we need to take/wear if we went down to the beach, which would likely be cold and windy? What would she wear if it rained? Did she really need seven pairs of socks? There was quite a lengthy discussion about whether a sequined jumpsuit would make the cut but ultimately she argued that it was warm as it covered up her arms and legs and that it made her happy. Who am I to argue with that?
We moved on to looking at what toys and games we would take with us. Initial choices included a hula-hoop and a large selection of cuddly toys - what might the problems be with taking a hula-hoop in a Ford Fiesta? Could she justify the need to take so many stuffed animals? How many ways could she play with the chosen items before getting bored? Caravan holiday = limited internet (that didn’t go down well!) so what could she do if watching Netflix on her tablet was not an option?
We ultimately ended up with a reasonable selection of practical all-weather clothes (and a sparkly jumpsuit) and a good selection of toys and crafty bits for her to entertain herself with. Would I encourage her to join in with the packing next time? Yes, I think I would.
It’s easy to undervalue these incidental conversations we have with children and how powerful it to give them space to express and justify their point of view. Don’t forget that the most powerful language learning happens in day-to-day activities, where we’re supporting children to build up their understanding and knowledge of the world. In the playground, a PE lesson or during early morning work, remember to leave a bit of wiggle room in the school day to allow for these conversations to develop… and sometimes let that enthusiastic ‘helper’ join in. You never know where the conversation might go.