Parenting your third child versus your first…

The other day I was riding the bus with Ivy when she pointed out another passing bus. “There’s the C11 bus,” she said, “The C is a letter and the 11 is a number”.  I was so impressed she knew the difference between letters and numbers, that I nearly fell out of my bus seat! And then I realised that I have been so bad at sitting down with her to work on her letters and numbers. I have completely relied on her nursery school to teach her those things.  And the fact that I didn’t know she was able to tell letters from numbers is really a testament to how un-involved I have become. Sigh.

With my first child, I remember teaching him his colours, numbers and letters at such an early age. I would sit with him for hours and do puzzles, read books, play with letter games and practice flash cards. He knew every letter by the time he was 18 months! And here I am… four children later… and my 3½-year-old doesn’t even know all her letters.

I know this is probably a very common parenting issue, the difference between parenting your first child and your third, but I totally remember thinking I would never be that mum who runs out of time to devote to all her kids. I suppose the reality is… there is simply not enough time in the day. And also, I’ve realised that if Ivy doesn’t know all her letters yet, she will learn them when she starts school next year. And that all kids eventually learn to read and write, so it doesn’t really matter if they learn them when they’re 18 months or when they are four. Right? Or have I become one of those mums?


p.s. Alphabet Flash Cards available here .

16 COMMENTS - Add your own

1. Sandra S. | March 7, 2013 | Reply

So true. With the first child you simply have more time to devote to flash cards, letter games etc. And just like with other things, I think you learn to let go a bit. Which is great, if it means you keep your sanity! Besides, 2nd and 3rd children tend to develop faster anyways, they pick up a lot from their older siblings.

2. gabrielle | March 7, 2013 | Reply

fantastic post. it worries me so much. but it just isn’t physically possible to do it all with more than one. my big concern is always reading – my second gets 15% (on a good day) of the reading time my first got/gets and consequently she just isn’t nearly as interested in books. sad.

3. ine | March 7, 2013 | Reply

not to be rude, tiger mom :), but she is 3,5yo and she knows letters from numbers and even reads eleven instead of one-one and you’re worried…?!
my friends would say you’re bragging ‘in disguise’ as everyone knows it’s not quite average for a 3,5yo to be reading anyway :)

4. Courtney in London | March 7, 2013

Dear Ine,
I promise I am not trying to brag at all! I really genuinely was more embarrassed to admit that she didn’t know all her letters. But I really think it’s a product of raising my kids in England where children start school so early. It’s a good reminder that if we lived in other parts of the world (Scandinavia, Germany, USA) she wouldn’t even be starting school for another couple years.
Also… my point with the article was not really to talk about my children’s abilities (I’m really not so bothered whether my daughter knows her letters yet) but just to point out that I don’t spend nearly as much time, or devote as much attention to my younger children, especially on a one-on-one basis.
But, as some of the others have pointed out, I don’t think she is suffering as a result – because she has older siblings who play with her, read to her and stimulate her in ways that even I couldn’t do, no matter how much extra time I devoted to her.
Anyway, I promise I wasn’t trying to brag. I also promise, promise, promise that I am not a tiger mom! :)
xx Courtney

5. ine | March 7, 2013 | Reply

ohw those smileys don’t look very friendly :)

6. Mo | March 7, 2013 | Reply

Oh Courtney I know what you mean – Lioba & Otto don’t get nearly the one-in-one time that Elias did but you know what I notice (and makes me feel a lot better about it)? They really learn from the bigger siblings – I would say Lioba is on par (maybe even better) than Elias at writing. And don’t worry too much about age-markers … It has been a real eye-opener for me educating our children through the German system – Elias is 6 and doesn’t know all the letters, can’t read at all yet and can only write when copying – they just start to learn all of that a lot later and it is a conscious decision to do so. They understand the benefits of kids learning through play and curiosity in these early years. I think there is also some thinking on not starting to learn conventional stuff too early as the brains aren’t ready for it (ill have to get one of my German friends to recap me on that idea as its quite interesting). I still have slight panic twitches when I see English friends of Elias reading and writing but history seems to prove they all net out on that in the end!

7. Courtney in London | March 7, 2013

Dear Mo,
I completely agree with the German approach! I think you’re so lucky to have found your school and your German community in London.
It’s not too dissimilar to the school my kids go to. They’re at a very liberal school which doesn’t follow the traditional British education system, and I’m so relieved that they don’t have the typical academic pressure put on them, especially as this young age. I love that they are encouraged to learn through play, and encouraged to be individual thinkers.

8. gabrielle | March 7, 2013 | Reply

same goes for Holland Mo. I get heart palpitations when i see how far ahead my london friends’ kids are – reading, maths, topics. here the kids are still effectively playing and I am told there are advantages, but one can’t help but worry.

9. Esther in Amsterdam | March 12, 2013

No need to worry — the result is the same in the end, so why not let them play when they’re still so little… The Dutch system must be the same as the German one!
And yes, my third does get so much less one on one time from me as well, but on the other hand she gets so much more attention from her siblings and all of their friends — which I think is much better anyway! :) xxx

10. Sofia | March 7, 2013 | Reply

Absolutely! Kids are not just miniature adults, that was back in the medieval ages.

11. Catherine | March 7, 2013 | Reply

My mum always says that she regrets not devoting more time to me (I’m a middle child, bookended by an older brother and younger sister). But I have to say, from my perspective, I didn’t feel this supposed neglect: I got to be the important big sister, but also operated slightly under the radar of my parents’ attention and therefore got up to lots of mischief! And I had my whole social world at pre-school. I also think that learning happens in unpredictable and obscure ways. My daughter learned to read before she started at school, but it seemed to be not so much the product of the time I spent trying to teach her, and more to do with her sitting quietly by herself tracing her finger over words in a book she’d had read to her countless times. I have to say, I do think Ivy’s bus letter/number recognition is totally impressive!

12. Emilie | March 7, 2013 | Reply

It all comes out in the wash and it is pretty much guaranteed that they will be on pretty much the same level in a few years time! I am a great believer in “benign neglect” as I like to call it, as I reckon kids are being made to learn a lot at a very young age (at least over here in France), It is so nice for them to learn by just playing and using their imagination at a young age. Mo and Gabrielle, don’t worry you are lucky to have your kids in systems that lets them be kids!

13. Christy | March 7, 2013 | Reply

I know for a fact you are not alone and anyone with multiple children (3 or more I should say) is in the same boat and wrestles with those same feelings of guilt (am I spending enough time??). I think partly you do those things with #1 to kill the time because what else are you to do all day long? But I have noticed just with my own children how amazingly fast they learn when they are ready. My soon to be 5 year old didn’t get nearly the same amount of time spent on learning letters and numbers and reading. But she knows them all, can write them all, can write her name beautifully and is starting to read at just about the same age her elder sister did. So they do learn from a LOT school and from siblings. And I think probably some of it has to do with being at the right age to learn. And wanting to learn.
Anyway, I always tell myself the best thing we can do as parents is to be as present as possible and I am also a huge proponent of reading aloud every day (which I bet you do also) and the rest will come with time.

14. F | March 7, 2013 | Reply

I do wish mothers wouldn’t be so hard on themselves (me included). Child rearing is tough enough without adding to our anxieties by thinking somehow we’ve inadvertently compromised our child’s future because we had to make the dinner or hang out the washing instead of doing flash cards. I don’t at all wish to dismiss your concerns, but an 18 month old knowing their letters is probably an anomaly in the broad scheme of things. You can be rightly proud of that achievement, but the real question is is it vitally important whether all your children know their letters and numbers before school, or only one (or any). I have one, and although I would have been so excited if he knew all his alphabet like your first, instead when doing flash cards, he was and remains more interested in throwing them around the room. I know he’ll get to it in his own time; at the moment he’s far more interested in what his nursery call ‘scientific experiments’. I also want to reassure you that I am 4 of 5, and ‘though our mother taught us all to read before school, it had no bearing on what we did, level of success or who we were later in life. Other things were far more influential, not to list them all but it does include the necessary ingredient of large families – benign neglect, where everyone learns independence, how to settle disagreements, and how to look after themselves and each other. (a fellow C11 route person)

15. WEEKLY WONDERS | | March 8, 2013 | Reply

[…] (or three or four!) than you did with your first? We often have long chats discussing this… Parenting Your Third Child Versus Your Firstvia […]

16. Vanessa | March 12, 2013 | Reply

I agree with Esther here – my youngest gets less attention from me but when I see her social skills and the way she copies from my eldest then I have no worries. With my first I did everything with her and took her to every class going but I’m far more relaxed with Florence. Neither way is right or wrong and both girls are growing in their own direction. Courtney, you are an amazing mother with four amazing children!