Friday, February 25, 2011

How do your children learn?

One of the other zillion Qs I'm constantly asked about. Aaap bachon ko kaise padaathey ho? ( how do you teach your children?) Did you take any training for HSing? how do you know what to teach when?

Well for starters I consider myself to be a gentle facilitator of my children's learning needs. I am their MOTHER . And that qualifies me to be the best teacher they could ever have.  I know them in and out. My body bore them, birthed them and provided them with the most nutritional food exclusively for 6 months and for much longer.

I am my children and they are me. Nature has tied us into an unbelievably strong bond. So this makes us an ideal pair to continue to the next stage- education.    I read somewhere that little children merge their identity with their mother.  I believe in this strongly.  And the fact that I believe that my children will let me know very clearly when it comes to being offtrack gives me immense confidence in what I do. There is no way one can force a child to learn. If that happens then its not education. Its some robotic , automatic stuffing of facts and ideas into the child's brain. There is no true learning happening here. 

So how do my children learn ? For Chellu its by doing things. She is very very hands-on  & very kinesthetic. And she showed these traits right from birth. She is constantly doing something or the other with her hands - she started to eat on her own by 7 months or so. Her desire to experiment with her hands makes her a very mischevious child.  Cutting, peeling, mixing, playing with water ( actually learning a lot about science in the processs), playing with mud & play-doh ( thats her hot hot favorite), opening drawers and checking out all the "fun" stuff that her parents hide away, drawing, pasting, plucking leaves from plants and examining them, collecting stones , inspecting everything thats on the ground including insects ( one of our family favorites is treasure hunt where we collect everything that seems interesting & then examine them) , mixing/ applying soap on everything and what not..Her hand-eye /small movement/ finger coordination is perfect. She loves being in the kitchen for this very reason. She started pariticipating in kitchen related work from a very very young age. When she was a baby I used to give her the really blunt butter knife & some veggies so that she would let me cook and that used to hook her on for like an hour. Ever since she could stand well, she used to help me empty the dishwasher while singing rhymes at the same time. She is now a pro at cutting veggies. She can do thin slices ( round or long), big slices, can peel  any vegetable and most importantly the conversations we have during cutting veggies is the best part. Last week when we made a strawberry milkshake she taught me how to cut strawberries into beautiful thin slices.  She loves to mix atta for chappattis & rolling them , LOVES washing vessels, makes simple soups & pasta ,wash clothes ( its much fun to watch the fervor with which she applies soap!! ),  sweeping and doing pochaa ( wiping the floor with a wet cloth) , wiping glasses with Colin ( she gets a kick out of the "spraying" part) & all the household work.  OMG! She is the happiest person on earth when the maid dosen't turn up.

And she will come up with all sorts of innovative ideas ! Like once when she was washing the bathroom floor with the plastic broom she applied the soap on the broom and not on the floor. That way she claimed the soap will spread well on the floor!! She does experiments all the time. Her favorite is the strained tea leaves after her mom makes her chai. She will mix it up in all sorts of concotions -with soap, with water, with other leftovers from the sink and once she put away such a concotion in the freezer to see if it turns into ice just the same way as plain water does. The next day she mixed soap with water , wanted to boil it and then do the goes on & on like this..My house is a veritable lab where things are constantly spilt, mixed, thrown, torn, shredded, cut etc etc..For most of it the floor is covered with paint, shredded paper, sticks, mud , water & what not! You guessed it! My house is anything but a clean , neat pretty looking thing. In my family I am the shabbiest homemaker. But for me my house is a heaven for my HSing family! I allow my children to be children and not miniature versions of residents of "Hilton" hotel. The kitchen is not my kitchen but theirs too.  I thank God a million times for making me the bindaas types- not the perfectionist with mild to severe versions of OCD ( Obssesive cleaning disorder). " Don't jump on the sofa, don't do this, don't do that"- my Q: if they don't jump on the sofa now when will they? If they don't play with mud when will they?" I remember the famous song from 3 idiots " Bachpan tho gayaa , javaani bhi gayee..."!!!

So this inclination of Chellu to not sit in one place ( & I think this is true for most children) and to constantly keep experimenting with her hands makes it easy for me to tailor her learning methodology. For us learning is mostly kinesthetic ,  tactile. And by keeping up with her natural learning styles ,what needs to be delivered how & when ceases to be guess work . When she expressed interest in reading we started to do the phonetics . And guess what ? Unlike most other children who read first and then write, Chellu did the reverse. Because she is tactile learner! She learned the aplhabets by writing them down. For 10 days or so we kept playing alphabet games, watching  alphabet videos, making the sounds , drawing & painting the alphabets, tracing it on a grains, making the shapes from play-doh and then one fine afternoon she picked up the pencil and wrote down all the letters on the wall one after the other ! Chellu loves songs too. So anything thats sung to her is etched in her memory forever. So we make up a lot of songs. Ive become a composer of sorts after the birth of my children!!

If on the other hand I asked her to sit in one place and repeat after me she will give me the "are you crazy" look and never do it! Another thing she hates is repetitive work. She will never do tracing alphabets line after line, page after page. So how will she perfect the alphabet? How will she have that beautiful handwriting? I think these are the things that we give undue importance to. First of all its unfair to ask children to write in small spaces. They just can't. Their little fingers are made to write big. Observe any pre-schooler and they will tend to scribble big, write big. They can't be constricted into small spaces. So I let it be and we banished the A-4s from our house. We do everything on big sheets, big papers.  I believe that as she gets bigger she will start writing more coherently, will start understanding what's good handwriting and just this whole idea of writing beautifully will be easier to explain to a 8 yr old than to a 4 yr old.

Another thing I've observed with Chellu is that she goes through phases of intense interest in something & that eventually vanishes. During that particular phase she will learn a lot. Right from the age of @ 18 mos or so she has gone through phases of intense interest in cutting paper ( everything she could lay her hands on including my hair!), pasting, drawing, painting, playing with play-doh, singing ( OMG I remember those days, begging God for 5 mins of slience), beading, lacing, cycling, playing dress-up, cutting veggies , tracing, doing workbooks, building blocks & so many more..I can't seem to keep count these days. And when she goes through these phases she is focussed like crazy. She will sit in one place for more than an hour!!  I used to get worried initially that she dosen;t seem to pursue her interests in anything for forever but then it dawned on me that such an inclination if that of an adult's. A child's curiosity is very high ..they want to explore everything around them and when they are satisfied to an extent with something its time to hop onto another. Permanence is an adult virtue, not a child's.

And one of the good things about HSing is that children demand our attention & get it one way or the other. Once when I fell sick an entire week Chellu realized that the only way to make me do something with her is to get her workbook out-that way I get to rest and she gets to do HSing. She never showed any interest in it before. But that entire week she has done her workbook for 1-2 hrs everyday. Certain nights I have begged her to let me sleep but she wouldn;t let go. "Amma 2 more pages.."!! So I think learning keeps happening all the time.  My children are upto something 24/7. The important thing is to create the environment and let children be children!

What about the younger one? Well she too has started to show patterns of intense interest in activities ( I;m starting to wonder if this is a common trait amongst all children?) . @ 2 weeks back all she did night & day was to keep cutting play-doh into thin slices with the butter kinfe. Play-doh was all over the house . Now she is into cutting paper. She started with the small scissors and now she handles the big one with much ease. Kunju learned the sounds of the alphabets with her sister, listens to all the stories, sings the rhymes /song, cuts veggies, washes vessels, paints , writes, " reads ", counts , fights with her sister over correct spelling ( this one really drives Chellu up the wall- " Amma she spells MAD as CAT & is fighting with me for it !! ") and in general is a miniature version of her sister. Yes but there are certainly clear distinctions. Chellu loves art, kunju dosen't ( she loves pouring water over her sister's art! ). Kunju loves puzzles, Chellu dosen't . Chellu is a risk-taker, kunju plays it safe.

Now does this all this happen with a ever smiling, loving mom? Many people ( especially my neighbors) think that Im an exceptional , super mom. How do you tolerate children 24/7? How do you not get angry? How patient you are!!! Oopss..a lot of misunderstanding there! Do I yell? Yes, spank? Yes,yes,  scold? yes, yes, lose my temper  ? Yes, yes , yes ( shankar is the best testimony for this) . I can be a monster of a mom , very short-temepred ( Im an Aries!) on certain days when I can't seem to tolerate my children . The constant mess, constant noise , fights ( seriously do all siblings want to kill each other like mine do?), having a hubby to deal with ( its the reverse for Shankar too ) can drive me up the wall and make me wonder " How the hell did I get into this?" . I dream of a neat & clean "Hilton" like looking house, children in school , me at work- sitting in one place for more than 5 mins , having adult conversations , going shopping WITHOUT children ( God I've almost forgotten how that feels!!) and doing adult stuff in general. I am certainly not a perfect mom by any measure nor are other HSing moms. We have our mood-swings, our temper outbursts and are very much like other moms..... But yes for most of us we are  HSers at heart and whenever the above feelings of "life on the other side of the fence" prop up its very temporary ... Like most other HSing moms Im soon back into the madness and fun that this journey offers ! And I've started to realize that its not necessary to be a perfect smiling mom 24/7 when HSing..Being a HSer is  good enough !!! :))))

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