No Limits, Please!

In our adult roles as parents, carers, teachers and educators it is inevitable that a large part of our responsibility encompasses placing limits on our children. As responsible adults, it falls on us to limit the amount of television they watch or the number of sweets and chocolates they can have in a day. Perhaps we think about how we can limit negative behaviour and encourage positive behaviour instead. These types of limits are necessary for the good of the child. However, not all limits are positive and sometimes they seem unnecessary and may often be detrimental.

I first became aware of these potentially detrimental (often unnecessary) limits when Georgia started at nursery school. It all started when I learnt more about the phonics system that is in use here in the UK to teach reading.

Georgia spends a lot of time with books and surrounded by books (a confession here: My main weakness is shopping for neither clothes nor shoes but books!). We first started looking at alphabet books and learning letters by their letter names and their relevant phonetical sounds. So from about 2, she knew that an ‘A’ (letter name) sounded ‘ah’ (phonetical sound) and so on.

Later on when she started at nursery school, she came home referring to letters, bizzarely, only by their phonetical sounds. This was when I did a bit more digging around on the Web and found out that children here are not taught letter names for fear that they would get confused!

So 4-6 year olds are ONLY taught the phonetical sounds of each letter without being told their letter names (I don’t know why they bother to teach the ABC song then really). At some point in their primary school life, probably at about 7 or 8 years of age, these children who up until then have only referred to letters by their phonetical sounds are then taught the letter names.

What baffles me completely is why there exists the assumption that children would find it confusing to learn letter names along-side letter sounds? My personal opinion and experience tells me that such limits are very unnecessary and often only serve to tell the children that they are inferior and incapable, while the fact is, if these limits are removed they are actually very capable of much greater achievements.

How would you know something is difficult, if you didn’t know that it was hard in the first place? In my book, children do not have enough experience to know whether things are easy or hard, they may have a preference, likes and dislikes, but with no prior experience, the perception of something difficult is often a ‘borrowed’ concept.

I observed a similar ‘self-limiting’ experience recently with music instruction.

Georgia’s school participates in a fantastic scheme called The Infants’ Strings Project. Through this project, all children at Reception (4-5 year olds) are taught to play the violin and some are offered the cello.

We too have a quarter sized cello at home and Georgia and I have been ‘playing’ with it for the past year and a half now. As I found it quite difficult to get hold of cello instruction books suitable for 3.5 year olds, I decided to design a very simple set of notes based on a music staff with some visually appealing images.

So we had notes for C, G, D and A (the open strings on the cello) printed on a staff with the bass clef and the music count. I also incorporated different note values. Because it did not occur to me that it might be difficult for Georgia, and I carried on teaching her based on ‘normal’ music notes. I found that it took only a couple of tries before she actually recognised and remembered the notes. In short, she could actually read music.

We have recently started formal music lessons with a lovely teacher who also participates in the Infant Strings Project and I found out from her that the children are only taught to recognise coloured notes (a colour denotes a note) without a staff and without note values.

This seemed to be yet another case of telling the children what they cannot do without actually letting them try to reach their potential.

Would you believe then, with no limits attached – the deaf can hear and the blind can see?

Take the case of (Think and Grow Rich, 1937) Napoleon Hill’s son, Blair, born without ears and on further examination, apparently had no possibility of hearing, and yet with unmistakable belief and no limits he was eventually able to gain most if not all of his hearing (with a hearing aid).

If this is not convincing enough, hear Caroline Casey for yourself….and remember – No Limits!

© 2011, Li-ling. All rights reserved.


  • How terribly confused all the people in the world must be who grow up bilingual, learning two whole WORDS for everything! 😀

    These limits seem ridiculous. I swear the people who come up with curriculum and methodology are just desperate for some new technique that they can be famous for inventing, and the teachers are too afraid to argue with the administration who implements the program because “these curriculum developers are EXPERTS, surely their way is the latest and greatest!”

    Phooey. Every person learns differently and so the narrower you make the instruction the more kids get left in the dust.

    • Thank you Elena. I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks this way.

  • I do find it strange that they’re not taught the letter names. However, I know that there are children who genuinely get confused. It’s a case of either teaching down the middle so that children of higher and lower aptitudes get the most out of the lesson or aiming for the lower and, to be honest, with class sizes being what they are, I can understand why the system aims to do the latter. Everyone learns differently, as Elena mentioned, however, in a classroom context it’s not always possible to cater to everyone. Interesting post by the way.

    • Hi Circus Queen! I know what you mean and it’s almost definitely a case of catering to the lowest common denominator. It’s a real shame though. Having said that, there are 26 kids in G’s class with 1 teacher and 2 assistants at any one time. In my primary school there were 42 kids with 1 teacher…there were definitely higher demands though.

      • I think similarly there were 40-something in my class to one teacher and while it was fine for me, I know there were students who definitely got left behind! But yes, it is a shame.

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