Let Kids Learn Their Way
Academics is only a small part of growing up and learning. Now, what kind of academic work you are going to do with your children depends on your belief system. But sadly, many times, we deal with the children in a particular way that will lead them to grow into a particular kind of individuals which is quite different from, in fact most of the times, exactly opposite to, what we actually want them to be. A few examples here will help you see what I am trying to say.
We want our children to become interested in reading. So we keep on insisting, they must read. When they are small, they might read also because that is what will make us happy and their acceptance is dependent on this one factor. But, except a few cases, it does not make them people who are interested in reading. The moment the pressure from our side is removed, they would not want to read. Instead, if we provide them with an environment where there are lots of books of their interest. We ourselves read the books and let them join us if they want to read. If they don’t join us in reading, that’s their choice and accept it. This way, they might start getting interested in reading a little later but this would be a life-long gift we would have given them.
In terms of academic work, again we have to see, what we want to achieve out of this whole experience. If we want the child’s curiosity, initiative, originality, creativity and sensitivity to be preserved, we do need to provide an opportunity to the child where these things are not snubbed before they blossom. If we set a schedule for the child where the child has to do a particular task decided by us and fit into a routine prepared by us, the child will definitely learn a host of facts and figures and will also learn to conform. But the child would have lost on all the other essential aspects that I have mentioned earlier. To preserve the child’s curiosity, it is very important that we allow the child to follow what catches his/her attention. Only then a desire is converted into an initiative. And then let him follow it in his own way and accept mistakes as natural part of learning. He will make mistakes, analyze it, find out why this mistake happened, find a new way, try it again and follow the process till he has perfected it before he moves on to the next thing. This way, he would have asked many more questions during the process and found out not only the answers to the questions but also how to reach those answers. This is what a child is essentially doing right from the time he steps into this world, though not at a conscious level. This gives him an ability to find unique and innovative solutions to his problems. When he encounters a new problem, it does not send him thinking, in which book he will find an answer to this question. He looks at every problem as an opportunity to learn and explore and goes ahead without getting exasperated and frustrated with the hurdles. How I look at this whole thing is the huge learning of life skills through this whole process as against finishing reading and answering questions from some of the textbooks.
There is another issue involved here. What I have found is that normally when we decide the time and content of a task for a child, it is quite possible that at that time the child wants to do something else. So the concentration and quality of involvement becomes a casualty. Having gone through this kind of experience over years at a stretch, the child gets very disinterested in everything he undertakes because he learns to look at it as a part of fulfilling someone else’s expectations and besides he has never had an opportunity to relate to whatever he does. On the other hand, if we let him do whatever is of his interest, he will automatically be able to concentrate on the task and relate intrinsically with whatever he does. The results are phenomenal here because in this way all his energies are focused on whatever he is doing. This helps him experience a kind of satisfaction of putting in hundred percent efforts and seeing its outcome. Over time, he will try to create that kind of satisfying experiences in whatever he does and he will not be satisfied with something lesser than that. It is possible that in this process he might do lesser things by our standards but then he would have mastered the skills that would stay with him no matter whatever he does.
It is not essential that the child will always be in a mood to do something. As a consequence, there will be times when the child does not want to do anything and is getting frustrated due to boredom. This is an experience in itself. What I do in such a situation, I just be with them helping them through this feeling of boredom. Quite often they just feel frustrated and stay in that mood for some time. I understand that it gets hard. But what works best for me is just be with the child without getting upset. At some point of time, the child decides to come out of this spell of frustration. With the passage of time, the frequency, strength and duration of these decrease. But if I were to assume that this disappears, I won’t be realistic because it is very natural to be in that state sometimes.
During this process what I find most difficult to do is to keep my mouth shut in situations where I see what the child is doing is not going to work or when I am gripped with a feeling that I know better than the child and can help the child avoid that frustration. I find that it is a very short-sighted goal which solves the problem for the time being and ignores the broader prospect.
Having gone this way with the child, the child learns to take responsibility and bear the consequences of his actions with full support, acceptance, love and respect from the people who matter the most to him. Once we have been able to achieve this, the child is on his own as a responsible, sensible and sensitive human being. Then if the child decides to do something in life, be it taking an exam, learning a skill, taking up a job or whatever, he will take full responsibility for it and put in his best into it.
When the child wants to do things that we put under the category of academics, we get involved with the child and help him learn those skills. Here also if one can design a program that is self-exploratory and experiential rather than teaching based, it really helps. I know that is not a problem these days. So much is available these days on the net and in the form of books. I also realize from the mails that most of the homeschooling parents take that path. What is crucial is your approach in whatever you do with the child. It really helps if we don’t take charge whenever the child shows slightest interest in anything. Let the child decide how deep he wants to go in the matter and how much time and energy the child wants to invest in a particular instance.
When my children were small, there were times when we didn’t do anything academic for months and then whenever they got involved in certain things, it occupied them completely, while playing, eating, sleeping, all the time. We were always there to provide resources and help them pursue their ideas. Sometimes, their projects would be academic, sometimes based on construction of one kind or another. We learned most of our maths playing cricket, keeping scores, averages, percentages and other kind of data involved at their own initiative. When I try to bring in any aspect, I do so with an understanding that it might or might not be accepted. If they reject it, I accept it. If for some reason, I don’t accept their rejection, I learn it the hard way that I should have. When they accept my ideas, they pursue them and take it in the direction they would like to. We would read the books when they wanted to, we would do sky watching with our telescope. One thing that is good with learning at home is that since we don’t have to spend on the fees and other things, we can invest in some other things that would be of greater use. When they were small, I used to display their work and stories. By the time they were five or so they were already reading and they started writing by the time they were seven or so. Writing is always restricted to the very minimum initially, till they are comfortable with it and their muscles are well developed to take the strain of writing.
Once their initiative, interest and curiosity have been preserved, there is no stopping them from doing anything they get interested in. They take full responsibility for themselves.