The joys (and benefits) of show and tell

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 Photo: Getty Images

Remember show and tell? When you had the chance to stand in front of your peers, as a youngster, and present some random gem you'd uncovered from home? Or perhaps you had a big story to share with your whole class about the camping holiday you just returned from …

Were you jumping out of your skin to get up there and be the centre of attention? Or, like me, shaking in your boots with vomit swirling around your stomach at the thought of having to speak in front of an audience?

Show and tell has been around for donkey's years. Well, at least since I was a kid, and according to my own children, I'm pretty old. But I'm viewing this ritual through a whole new lens now – as a parent, I'm under the pump to 1) remember it's my child's turn and 2) help them find an item or story worthy of sharing.

My mother also recalls the pressure to come up with something great. She'd offer different ideas: How about your new Barbie? Why don't you tell them about how you've mastered a cartwheel? None of them were ever good enough. I recall her grabbing a lamp – yes, a lamp – on her way out the door, as my sister howled about having nothing interesting to take to show and tell. If there was a real winner that day, my sister was it.

Preschools, day care centres, kindergartens and schools all have variations of the show and tell idea. Some have "show and share", some have a treasure box which the children bring back with a few items from home to discuss. For the younger age groups there are teddy bears that the child takes for a couple of days and documents their time with the teddy through pictures, drawings and writing (parent-assisted).

There can be a wide variety of themes: bring anything you like, or subject specific, for example. "Bring something that starts with 'U' – the letter we are learning about this week" (by the way, a UDL can is not recommended). This can make things easier or harder depending on your child. For my child, the Umbrella didn't cut it, nor did Underpants, Ultrasound photos or Utensils. I told her I could do the Ugly cry and she could take me. She settled on her toy Unicorn instead.  

So why is show and tell still around giving us something else to wrestle with our children about? What are the reasons and benefits behind the concept?

The Early Learning Years Framework (ELYF) is a guide for educators that aids child education and development from birth to five years. It says that show and tell helps:

  • children have a strong sense of identity
  • children connect with and contribute to their world
  • children become effective communicators.
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In parent speak, these are the obvious skills that children learn just by organising their thoughts and having to stand and present in front of a group: confidence building and public speaking. There are also identifying values and learning about home life (this one can occasionally be hairy for carers and educators!).

A teacher friend shared a story about a little boy who said that his dad was a police officer, and that he'd brought the police car home to show his kids. "We got the full rundown of what the police car could do and the things that the father did as part of his job as a police officer. It was a grand story, with so much detail.

"The next time I saw the dad he was wearing a uniform that was very different to that of a police officer. Turns out he was a cleaner at the local shopping centre. When I told him about the show and tell story, he told me that they had in fact had a police officer out to their house - because the boy had thrown rocks through the neighbour's windows and smashed a number of them!"

Clearly, that child's confidence and story-telling abilities were advanced for his age. He was certainly putting one of the EYLF outcomes to the test: "Children become socially responsible and show respect for the environment."

On top of these proficiencies, show and tell develops social skills and communication conventions such as listening and taking turns, and relevant question asking. Some adults aren't quite adept at these, so perhaps some show and tell in the office every Monday wouldn't go astray? Or maybe that's what already happens around the coffee machine at 9am?

I waved off another show and tell entry this week. It was a box my daughter had fashioned into a car for her teddy and doll. She made wheels and headlights for it and it looked pretty swish. It wasn't until I gave her the thumbs up at the classroom door that I noticed the box was from my husband's slab of craft beers. Let's hope the teacher doesn't judge our home life ...