Making sense of our World

And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.
Roald Dahl

It has been an Easter of real contrasts. We have spent precious time with our daughters in the tranquility of County Galway. The children fed lambs on their grandparents’ farm and watched seals basking in the afternoon sun off the coast of the Aran Islands.

Seals basking off the coast of Inishmore

They enjoyed exploring the Iron Age fort of Dún Aonghasa and hunting for eggs in the garden with their cousins. As parents, I think that many of us are inclined to create a rustic idyll and, for me, the perfect childhood is probably a rather pastoral and desperately outdated blend of Arthur Ransome, Enid Blyton, and Malcolm Saville.

It is a safe but adventurous place within which children are free to explore their surroundings and learn about the world around them. It is a world devoid of tablets and other digital devices which, if overused, tend to reduce children to passive and monosyllabic automatons doomed to experience the world virtually. In this sense, I am a traditionalist and an idealist who hankers after a world which probably never existed other than in the fiction books of my youth. However, even those of a more progressive and modern mindset do not want their children to grow up too fast and although I slightly recoil from the buzz phrase ‘making memories’, I expect that we all reflect upon how our children will assess their childhoods when they look back from the vantage point of adulthood.

For all of this, the outside world does encroach upon whatever idyll we try to create. Dreadful things do happen and we have a duty to help our children understand the challenges and complexities of our world in a manner which is age appropriate and sensitive to their own intellectual and emotional development. Increasingly, our oldest daughter is beginning to ask searching questions about news items. Most recently, she wanted to know why someone had shot the brilliant young Northern Irish journalist Lyra McKee. Such a wicked and senseless act is difficult for any of us to comprehend but it is especially difficult for children with little or no understanding of Anglo-Irish politics. We had a long chat about the history of Northern Ireland but I worried that my responses were either too reductive or too detailed and I am supposed to be a history teacher! Only days later, the dreadful bombings in Sri Lanka provoked further challenging questions. Whilst we should obviously shield children from the most distressing aspects of such outrages, they will inevitably want to comprehend the world within which they live as they become increasingly cognisant of life beyond home and School.

I think that it is reasonable for us to feel anxious about the gradual erosion of the protective and nurturing bubble that, intuitively, we all attempt to envelop our children within. This is because there are times when the news seems unremittingly grim. In the midst of such tragedies and acts of incomprehensible misery, it is worth highlighting to children the incredible acts of courage and kindness which all too often become mere footnotes within the reportage.

There are a some really excellent online/digital resources that provide news for children in a manner which is thoughtful and age appropriate. The BBC’s Newsround website provides a superb starting point for children wishing to explore the weighty issues of the day.

Other websites such as provide great resources for younger children. Older children should read The Week or Time Magazine There is no better way to explore environmental issues than by delving into the National Geographic magazine.

We must educate our children about environmental and political issues so that they are empowered to become engaged and effective citizens of the future. Their growing understanding of their own identity is, too a large extent, informed by their contextual understanding of the world within which they live. It is no abrogation of responsibility to observe that a good deal of a child’s education must happen beyond school and that we (as parents) have a vital role to play in terms of ensuring that our children gradually develop a good understanding of issues which lie beyond their immediate experience. It is a question of balance and consideration of natural disasters or warfare should be balanced with positive examples of technological advances, medical breakthroughs and, of course, human kindness.