Reasons to prepare yourself before engaging young children in conversation

'How many years after the Great Fire of London were you born, Grandpa?' our 6 year old grandson asked my husband on Monday when we went round to their house for Grandpa's birthday meal.

The Great Fire of London is one of Elijah's 'markers'. He learned about it at school and knows the date: 1666. So, why not use it to try and get his head around time? Logical.

But when my husband told him, 'About 300,' he was flummoxed. 300 years? Is that even a THING?

'When were you a baby, Grandma?' 4 year old Phoebe then asked me at the dinner table, looking up at my face as if to say, 'Was this ever possible?'

It reminded me of when I tried to tell a little girl in a shop who was buying a Mars Bar that, when I'd been a child, Mars Bars had been four pence. She stared at me as one might gaze at the Acropolis and said, 'Were Mars Bars even invented then?'

I love this stage, though, when they're not quite sure about time and how it works. It leads to the most entertaining questions.

I've already told you in this blog post about when Elijah wanted me to find real footage on Youtube of medieval knights fighting at Warwick Castle. He was most disappointed to find that no one was around at the time filming them on a smartphone.

It must be a strange world inside a child's head until they learn to navigate days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries.

They measure time in 'sleeps', meanwhile. 'How many sleeps until George's party?' 'How many sleeps until the weekend?' This helps them to estimate how long a wait they have.

It can feel mean, giving them the bald truth sometimes. 'How many sleeps until Christmas, Grandma?'

'A hundred and thirteen.'

'A HUNDRED AND THIRTEEN?' *wobbly lip*

One may as well have set fire to a sparkly pile of Christmas presents or put a Marmite sandwich in front of the child for Christmas dinner.

'Got bad news for you, Teddy. You know I told you it would soon be Christmas?....'

The difficulty with time - and with age - continues into later childhood. I have a very clear memory of sitting on the edge of my bed in 1976, at the age of 14, working out how old I would be at the millennium. I totted it up and realised I'd be 38. I couldn't process it. Thirty-eight sounded like someone teetering on the edge of the grave. I dismissed the idea. It couldn't happen.

Also, I was recently surprised to discover that a teacher who had taught me English at school - Mr Jackson - was still alive. How did I find out? Did I meet him? No. I met a man at a literary event who had been Mr Jackson's teacher when Mr Jackson was Junior Jackson and at school himself! It was on the tip of my tongue to say to this man, 'You look incredible for someone who must be two hundred and six! Can I have your plastic surgeon's number?'

Poor Mr Jackson. I'd thought of him, and all my teachers, as octogenarians at least, surprised to see them turn up day after day instead of being admitted to nursing homes or dropping dead at the school gate. But in the mid 1970s, he was probably only in his 30s. Now, he's in his 70s, and the man I met, who taught him, was a sprightly chap in his 90s.

These days, I'm on the other side of the desk: a teacher. And when I said to a student yesterday who'd come across an unfamiliar word, 'Why don't you go and look up the definition in a dictionary?' he looked at me pityingly, although kindly, and said, 'I think that's just an old person thing now.'

This was on the first day of term as teaching began again after my six week summer holiday.

Hm .... How long have I got until the next summer holiday?



  1. They really don't have a good grasp of time. I once showed the wee man an item that belonged to my great grandparents which would make them his 3xgreat grandparents (given the mama in the middle lol). He thought he would like to meet them and where did they live.

    1. Ah, that's so sweet. I bet he was really downcast when you revealed the awful truth :(

  2. a little bit like "did you have dinosaurs as pets when you were little Nanna?"

    1. Ha ha! How does one keep the self-esteem intact, that's what I want to know!!

  3. A couple of years ago, I learned that the librarian at my high school had died. I was shocked to see how young he was at the time of his death. When I was in high school, I thought he was elderly. He was in his thirties when I graduated in 1977.

    I watched Senator John McCain's memorial service on Saturday. He was 82, I believe, when he died from brain cancer. I looked at the who's who of guests attending the service and thought I spotted McCain's mother. I was sure I had to be wrong, but she was indeed there. She's 106.

    Time is strange.


    1. It's true. Time is strange. I was thinking, too, about how one's own children grow up and become adults, but when I see that my contemporaries' children have done just the same, I am shocked!

  4. Haha! A thoroughly entertaining read. I too love children's estimations about time, and age too. When Matthew came into school with me once to shift some boxes, I was first asked if he was my brother then my husband. Lovely LOLy post.

    1. You must hear it all the time, primary school teaching! Thanks for reading and making up the word LOLy.

  5. LOL!! So true and so funny!

  6. A little girl I have just met asked her mum if Christmas was after Her Daddy's birthday the next day. The mother listed all the family birthdays, Halloween, bonfire night still to come first . I think the little girl got the gist but no doubt Christmas will arrive in the shops soon enough to confuse the Hell out of her !

    1. It confuses the rest of us when Christmas arrives while we're still in sunhats, so what chance does she have?!

  7. I remember asking my mother if she'd worn a crinoline when she was little and her asking me how old I thought she was. I knew she was older than 10, that's why I'd asked.

    1. Ha ha - that made me smile - 'I knew she was older than 10'!


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