How Children Learn

Concept of teaching encages learning. Exploring gives wings to learning. Compartmentalize learning into subjects makes it limited. Everything around us serves as vast landscape of learning.

When you see a insect and say, “Yuck!”
What does your child say? “Yuck”!
Lesson to child: worms are yucky and possibly scary also. Without realizing we close a big learning opportunity for the child. To know more about worms, about nature and food cycle, about aerodynamics or movement, about life.

When you see a flower and say, ‘Beautiful”.What does your child say? “Beautiful” (Even if the child is too small to speak, she appreciates beauty).

Lesson to child: Flowers are beautiful, something to appreciate. Maybe without realizing we have opened one learning opportunity for the child to know more about flowers, designs, nature and to appreciate good things in life.

Children see us, observe our behavior, listen to our words carefully and feel our feelings. How the adults approach a learning situation, the child learns to approach the same way. If we want our children to be curious, inquisitive, exploratory,
inquiring, we need to see how we approach things in our life. But why life?

Fortunately we can’t compartmentalize learning to school or learning to reading and writing. Learning happens everywhere: at home, in the garden, at a restaurant, or a party! In fact the best learning happens when its part of my life, when I am fully experiencing it, when I have a reason and meaning behind it, when I approach it with a purpose of my own, when it is contextual – part of real life.

Even after spending several years in Bangalore, I am still struggling to speak and understand Kannada. Similarly many children struggle to learn a third language at school. My four year old daughter who was exposed to Kannada from birth(as her maid communicates only in Kannada) speaks three languages fluently, even supports us as interpreter with maids, in public places, etc. Some of our friends are amazed at her simultaneous knowledge of Hindi, English and Kannada and consider her extra intelligent. I think she is simply fortunate to get exposed
meaningfully to three languages. I am sure if she was exposed to a fourth language she would have picked that up with as much ease.

Surprisingly in spite of this awareness, children are made to struggle to learn the third language. A parent, anxious over her child’s Hindi – asked if we could design a program for Hindi. Our response, “put him in any program and we will speak to him in Hindi – soon he will know Hindi well enough. Put any learning in context and it becomes so simple and accelerated.

Many children detest writing. During first few years of child’s life listening and talking is the basic form of communication, while the child sees reading equally important to survive – from signboards to food packets to stories for entertainment. But the child is introduced to writing through writing ABC- which has no connection with child’s life.

What motivation will a child have in writing one page of only A’s or B’s. On top of that they are supposed to write the alphabets correctly and neatly. How artificial, uninteresting and laboring can learning made to be?

The moment we let the child write his or her name, family members name, his wish-list of shopping items, what the child wants to eat, what the child wants to play and so on the motivation is intrinsic, the learning natural.

Let a cricket lover write about cricket, let a Harry Potter fan write about what she likes about the books, let a cartoon network fan write about what was interesting in today’s show, let a child write about the picnic she went or the party he went. Removed from reality it’s a burden, but write about me, my experiences, my feelings and I am game!

What is 3 + 7? Why bother? If there were ten ducks in a pond and three went away how many left? Who cares? How many chocolates you bought yesterday, how many you ate in the night? So how many are you left with – I will tell you that straight away. Somehow shrouded in so called “word” problems we think we have got the basic tenet of teaching math. But isn’t it still artificial. That is when math exists all the time around us: In the kitchen, in shopping, in the stationery the child uses, or the games he plays.

“I have seven guests coming and I want each to have two Samosas – so please go and buy enough Samosas dear” When the child knows its about multiplication then see how fast she wants to learn the tables. In a math workshop children were overjoyed when they learnt about multiplication, division planning their whole birthday party. Check out in your house who does all the planning?

There is nothing more real life than science. In the pool let the child notice that when we inhale, we don’t sink, when we exhale we sink – Buoyancy for you!

Observe – question – investigate and you can learn the science taught in first eight years at home through curiosity and fascination. Somewhere in the process of packaging it in a tin we have made learning to be artificial, something that ‘has’ to be done, something that requires extra effort!

No wonder to many it tastes bland – something that requires the external push and pull of a teacher and marks. But the moment we stop teaching, rather we explore learning with our child, we learn together – by discovering, by doing, applying, by imagining – all from our day to day life. Learning is the most natural thing for a child to do.