Making learning special: When curious children can walk into fishponds

One day, my then four-year-old daughter Nandini walked away from her class and into the fishpond, she simply wanted to know in how much water the fish lived. It struck me then that as products of mainstream education we somehow lose that curiosity to walk into fishponds just to discover something.

By Divya Bhalla

Most of us have studied in what we can call a mainstream school. We sat on desks and almost in the same place every day of the year. Our initial years were spent in learning alphabets and numbers by rote. Later we had textbooks and tests that tried to mould us into a group that needed to fit into the world. When we played sports, we competed with each other more than we learnt. We somehow felt the need to fight to win, the need to fit in and conform to norms in order to progress. Even now, not many question this world order in education.

To many of us life has no revelation till an experience touches us with a peculiar influence, subduing us into receptiveness. My son and daughter went to a progressive school for their primary education, a school that not only transformed my children but also changed how I think about education itself.

One day, my then four-year-old daughter Nandini walked away from her class and into the fishpond, she simply wanted to know in how much water the fish lived. It struck me then that as products of mainstream education we somehow lose that curiosity to walk into fishponds just to discover something. We are so accustomed to adhering to the norm that we forget to learn – the primary reason why we join a school. Experiential learning kindled that curiosity to learn in my children, and changed my perspective on education.

My son learnt subjects through projects. These projects compelled him to apply his mind in figuring out the why and how. Learning about time isn’t about an application of 5x table but more about how exactly time functions. When you build a clock, you actually learn about how time moves through our days and how we use tools to measure and manage it. I can’t think of a better way to teach that would make a child inherently grasp the concept.

During their formative years, children need not be taught much but they learn seamlessly if the relevant avenues are provided. If the outdoors learning becomes experiential, letting the child follow a path of curiosity-led knowledge, our traditional learning seems several notches behind. Just as with nature, nothing is rushed but everything somehow gets done.

The need today is twofold.

First, to be a learning and growing parent. As a learning parent you realise that your children exhibit behaviours quite similar to yours. If you truly want their growth then you have to observe your growth too. It kept busy and excited to work with both their hands and mind in the formative years, children learn quite organically. Cooking and eating joyously together brings huge lessons, building strong bonds of security. Outdoor trips provide a fresher approach to the natural world. Running and playing with your kids will take you closer to many unseen dimensions of their personalities. All the small activities add up and somehow help in perceiving children better.

Second, to provide the essence of holistic learning in schools within boundaries of our educational boards. The experience of my children’s early schooling has given me great insight into how teachers and parents think. Living in a society that’s largely been educated similarly in a factory-model classroom system, we are always at odds with what we want for our children. We need to start believing that unhindered primary years pave the way for confident middle and high school years.

(The writer is a mother, entrepreneur and mountaineer. Taking a leaf out of her early parenting years, she started a school in Gurgaon by the name of MatriKiran in 2011. )

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