Happy talk

Harry didn’t talk until he was 3. At all. He made sounds in a speech pattern, but he didn’t say any actual words. (He’s doing it in this video, if you’re interested.) Oddly, we weren’t particularly concerned – he was extremely communicative and easily made himself understood, to the extent that we sometimes forgot that he wasn’t actually talking.


At preschool, he didn’t even do the gibberish – he didn’t say anything at all. Sometimes he would miaow. Yes, really. After he’d been at preschool for a while, they referred him to a local authority speech therapist. She came out to see him, sat and played with him and then said there was nothing they could do because he wouldn’t talk to them so they couldn’t understand the problem. Um…

When he started school, he was talking to us at home, but not really to anyone outside the home. They said it wouldn’t be a problem – they had ways of dealing with it, they’d give him extra tuition, etc. He’d been there a couple of weeks when his teacher took me to one side and asked me if it was normal for him not to talk. I told her it was and that this had been discussed. She assured me it wasn’t a problem. Then the school nurse phoned and asked to come and see me at home. “He doesn’t talk at school,” she said. “I know” I said, wearily. When she came out, we chatted for long enough that Harry relaxed and talked to me in her presence (if I remember rightly, he pulled his pants down and did a ‘bum dance’…) and she left, saying obviously he was fine and she’d feed that back to the school.

Eventually, he started talking at school, but I’d say it took until Year 2. Since he left school, friends (Harry’s friends) who have come to visit have been surprised by how much more he talks. We took one boy with us to Tesco (for a good reason, honest) (we probably had nothing to give him for his tea) and Harry talked all the way there. When we got out of the car, George looked a bit shellshocked. “He never used to talk at all at school,” he said to me. In the supermarket he said to Harry, “Harry! You’re such a chatterbox!” Harry said, “I know…” and grinned.

I’ve written for Parentdish about Harry being shy and it is still the case that he won’t talk – at all – to some people he meets, but at other times he chats away. It seems quite random. In the park the other day, a little boy was stuck on the big slide and Harry reassured him then went over to tell the child’s mum what the problem was. No biggie.

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while, but really all of the above is just background (Harry’s not the only one in this family with verbal diarrhoea) to what we’ve noticed with Joe. When Joe started to talk, me and David found it really weird. Because we weren’t used to Harry talking at that age, when Joe started to speak it was like suddenly hearing a cat speak. We’d ask him questions and then be shocked when he answered them with actual words.


His speech seemed to come along pretty quickly and he grasped sentence structure really easily. Even now, he’ll say something and me and David look at each other. The words “He’s talking like a real person!” have often been uttered. Recently, Joe was setting up a train track and told me one of the pieces was wrong. I asked him what was wrong with it and he said, “It seems to be a road…” (It was road on one side, track on the other.) The ‘it seems to be’ blew me away. It seemed to be such a grown up thing to say.

One of the lightbulb moments I had when I was reading about home ed last summer was how children learn some of the hardest things they ever have to learn – walking and talking, to name just two – before school. Without school. Without formal teaching of any kind. They pick it up from others, from doing, from living. I’d been idly thinking about how a school would go about teaching speech and then I read this quote:

“If we taught babies to talk as most skills are taught in school, they would memorize lists of sounds in a predetermined order and practice them alone in a closet.” ~ Linda Darling-Hammond

I’m not quite cynical enough for the ‘alone in a closet’ but the first part rings true. Watching – or rather listening to – Joe learning to talk has been one of the most thrilling and joyful experiences of my life (you may have noticed this by how often I tweet or facebook the stuff he says). If home education gives us even a smidgeon of that in relation to, you know, everything else, I’ll be so happy I might miaow.


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