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Saturday, May 13, 2017

Use Homeschooling option smartly




On 13 May, we interacted with Homeschooling parents to find out the pros and cons of Homeschooling. 

Here is the summary of the important observations :

Advantages of Homeschooling 

1. Today's parents opt homeschooling when they want their child to focus on subjects which are not taught in depth in school , such as drawing, music, sports, economics, computers, and psychology. Earlier homeschooling was used for disadvantaged children because of which homeschooling has acquired 'wrong' reputation. 

2. Because parent-child interaction in homeschooling is more dense than in normal schooling, homeschooling enables parent to identify the 'spark' in their child and guide accordingly.  Because of more interaction with child, parents also learn to trust their child and help the child indirectly.  

3. Parents also opt this method to skip grades. For instance, if their child is ready for Class VI even when her age is say 11, she can give an exam of Class VI and jump ahead. 

4.  More importantly, homeschooling enables the student to 'develop' at his/her own pace as there is no peer pressure or teacher pressure.  In other words, the child stops running because someone else is running.  

5. Most of the students opt for registering under NIOS, National Institute of open schooling. One can register in 6th, 8th or 10th class. This also enables the students to give exams for those years. NIOS certificate is good for getting admission into any discipline, be it Engineering, Medical or anything else. Please visit their site for more information on course material, study center. Guru Gobind School is its official study center in Nashik. Everything can be done online. 

6. Students can also opt for SSCE Board to give exams. For that one should ideally register in the fifth class. Late registration can also be done. This points requires more clarification. 


Disadvantages of Homeschooling

1.  Parents have to spend considerable time in homeschooling. One parent, whose child is of age 5, spends 2 hours every day.. Given the generic subjects upto Class V,  one can safely claim that a parent may be spending more time on homeschooling till the Class V, But, as the student moves to higher specialised classes, this time is reduced because student manages himself.

2. It is assumed that homeschooling parents should be experts on different subjects. In the past this may be true, but Internet today has made it easier for parents to help their children even in different subjects. Homeschooling parents use Swashikshan group for linking with other homeschooling parents. This helps the parents to share resources, ideas and workloads. Parents also use various sites to get 'worksheets' ( worksheets are question sheets) on different subjects like English and Mathematics. They also use Pinterest to find more material. 

3. Due to absence of formal schooling, it is assumed that homeschooling students miss socialisation and therefore lack social skills . This is a myth. Because students always form different groups, be it with neighbors, with sports group, or arts group. 

4. Due to absence of formal schooling, it is assumed that homeschooling students miss camping experience, experience of Annual days, Stage experience. Once again, this is no more true in the current times. 


Saturday, August 27, 2016

Montessori 'teaches' the concept of number 1 to 10 to every child

When parents come for admission to Montessori, they often proudly claim that 'My child can recite 1 to 10'. I cannot tell them that the child is just remembering these numbers by rote. I find it difficult to disappoint them by saying that with the child's prodigious memory, he can recite a lot by rote. When the child remembers the number by rote, he does not understand that the symbol '5' stands for quantity of 5 items, or 8 stands for quantity of any 8 items. 5 is a concept, not a concrete number. The number 5 can stand for 5 bananas, 5 chocolates, or 5 Rupees. 

Montessori however manages to 'teach' this concept of 'number' by using these 6 steps:

Step 1: Help the child count the number 1 to 10 using 'number rod'

Before the introduction of numbers, the child is already introduced to 10 long rods, ranging from 10 cm to 100 cm. The child has learnt to align these long 'red' rods. See this picture below. 


Long rods done by a child 
Photo courtesy: Sapience Montessori 

But now, instead of red color rods, number rods are marked as 'red' and 'blue' which the child uses to count a number. Smallest rod is 'rod of 1', second rod of blue and red is 'rod of 2', and so on. While counting the rod, the child often loses patience. Sometimes the child keeps on 'counting the number by his mouth', but his hand is 'stationary'. He often takes long time to count rods beyond '6'. If a child gets distracted while counting, he often forgets and counts it ahead without noticing that he has missed the count. 


Long number rods 1 to 10

Step 2: Child traces the symbols 1 to 10.

These are sandpaper numbers. They help the child to remember the symbol of number. Observe the big numbers. Numbers 1 to 5 are kept on the mat, while the box of number is showing the card of '9'. Here the child's muscle memory is used to remember the 'symbol'.


Sandpaper numbers 1 to 10.

Step 3: Number symbol is 'associated with rod'.

In this step, the child associates the 'rod of 3' with symbol '3' and so on. This step is often the trickiest step. He either forgets the name of symbol beyond 6. Or he may forget the counting of number. To test the child's memory, he may be asked to pick a rod randomly, say rod of 5, then rod of 8 and so on. Some children at this stage find it so challenging, that they undergo performance-anxiety. They are reluctant to come to Montessori. In Montessori, lot of space is offered to the child to assimilate and resolve this. 

Association of symbol of 1,2 etc with the rod of 1,2 etc

Step 4: Using small number rods for counting

If the child is doing long number rods well, he moves to counting of small number rods. These small number rods are smaller in size and can fit on a small mat. Child finds it more difficult to count small number rod. Sometimes we have also observed that the child goes back to long number rods and counts. This facilitates repetition of the counting.


Child counting small number rods and associating them with numbers
Photo courtesy: Sapience Montessori MHC

 Step 5: Counting of spindles 0 to 9

Until the step 4, the child is counting contagious numbers. Now he starts counting discrete spindles. He may even ask a question 'What is zero'. This shift of discrete counting is more drastic for a child. He may start counting either from number 5 or from number 9. At this stage, his 'number association with symbol' is further strengthened. Therefore, at this stage, child's memory is tested. They often confuse 6 with 8, or 6 with 9, and so on. If the confusion persists, he has to be given the sandpaper number to trace once again. His patience and focus also gets tested. 

Counting spindles with Spindle box 0 to 9

Step 6: Count the 'counters' and associate it with 'card'

This is the last stage of counting 1 to 10, where the child's capacity to associate symbol with quantity is tested. Using this foundation, he is later introduced to decimal system of units, tens, hundreds and thousands to count 4-digit numbers upto 1000. 

Child counts 'counters' and associates it with number card 

Summary

Step 1 to step 6 ensures that the child associates the symbol with the exact quantity, be it the quantity of bangle, or banana. A child takes about 2 to 3 months to go through these six steps. When I tell this to parents, they are often surprised. They cannot imagine that a child takes 2-3 months to 'understand' the concept of 1 to 10. If you observe these six steps, these six steps not only test child's memory; but it also tests his ability to keep focus and maintain patience. Even if the child tries to memorise in any of the step, his mistake gets spotted easily in the next step. He is almost 'forced' to 'understand' the number.

And because the Montessori method is child-centric, every child gets the concept of 'number' in Montessori. Some child get it early, some get it late. Some children may undergo performance-anxiety and will take more time to overcome this anxiety. During this period, the child could also be reluctant to come to Montessori. In Montessori, space and time for emotional-resolution is offered to every child. Emotional-resolution plays an important role in learning. In the traditional method of schooling, where children are taught in group, it is often easy to miss a child who 'does' not understand the concept of number. But in Montessori, this never happens.  At the end of six steps therefore, every child gets the concept of number.


Thursday, February 11, 2016

When curiosity becomes an enemy of a child, what can you do?

I had presumed that 'fear of failing' is visible late in Higher secondary school and later ages. I was therefore surprised, when i noticed in young children of 3-4 years age in a Montessori.




Every child has a invisible 'challenge zone'. If the new task is 'below' the challenge zone, the child is bored. This is why child dumps a toy soon after he buys it. If the task is 'above' the challenge zone, the child faces the fear of failing in it. His response to this fear 'determines' his speed of learning.  If he withdraws, his learning stops for the time being. If he engages with the activity despite failing, he will learn to do it sooner or later. When he responds to one such difficulty by withdrawing himself, it does not matter perhaps. But when he responds to these new tasks - as he encounters them again by again - by repeatedly withdrawing from them, he sets up a pattern that is harmful for his learning.

Repeated response to a new task therefore determines the child's speed and extent of learning. Child's curiosity always drives him towards new tasks and objects. But his ability to negotiate this 'challenge zone' influences his ability to learn. If he fails to negotiate it, he stops taking new tasks which in turn stops his learning. If he manages to negotiate it, he keeps on stretching himself and continues to learn. For a child, who is not able to negotiate this challenge zone, Curiosity becomes his enemy. 

Imagine a child for whom Curiosity has become his/her enemy. For such a child new activity, instead of excitement, generates anxiety in him. Instead of engaging in new activity, he discovers new excuses every day to avoid new task. Some children even boast of activities that they claim to have done earlier. Instead of engaging with friends who explore, he finds friends who do the same activity again and again. Besides expending his 'physical energy', such games and activity offer him little help in learning. When I met a 3-year old child, who refused to remove 'training wheels' of his bicycle, because he found it 'challenging' to balance without those wheels, I felt sad. If you meet such a child, you will do your best to help your child nurture his curiosity.

What can you do in helping your child nurture his Curiosity?

These seven rules will help you:

First, give activities that are just above the challenge zone of your child. Many parents, in the haste to help their child grow faster, offer new activities which are way beyond their challenge zone. For such parents, small exposure is better than no exposure. When a child is offered an activity beyond his challenge zone, World map for instance for a child of 4 years, he learns nothing from the activity. He just repeats the steps mechanically and tends to memorise it by rote. Infact, it gives him a false impression of knowing more than he knows.

If you are not sure about the activity to offer to your child, consult your Montessori teacher or use a Montessori book.

Second, your child is unique. Please do not assume that a difficult task for one child will be difficult for your child.

A child will find a seemingly simple task difficult, and the reverse. For instance, N ( One  child in Sapience Montessori) found that remembering color names like red, blue and yellow was so difficult for him that he started saying "I do not want to come to Montessori'.  Another child H, found it difficult to match cylinders with the holes in the block, if the cylinders were kept at a distance of 10 feet. She could match them when they were kept closer to each other. She cried when reminded to do that activity.

Not every child behaves in the same way when a new activity is introduced. Some children, when introduced to a new activity, will take long time to engage in it. Some do it immediately. For instance, one child in Sapience takes up new activity next day, while another girl child takes it after a week.

Third, give the child enough space and time to overcome his/her fear of failing

For instance, N ( the child mentioned above ) became so anxious that he did not take any activity for 3 weeks. In Montessori, this cushion is provided to the child to accept his fear and deal with it. On the other hand, H ( the girl child mentioned above) overcome her fear by talking to herself for a month. She kept on telling herself that " I will be able to perform the activity if I do the activity again and again'.

Fourth, do not help the child to perform the new activity.

Initially, you may show your child how to do the activity by doing it yourself. But, once you show it, never help the child while he is doing it. Remember, he has to go through his feelings of inadequacy himself. If the child is struggling to finish it you may help him by making comments, such as 'Try once again' or 'If you do it again, you will get it".  

Fifth, do not punish 'indirectly' for doing activities unsuccessfully.

Parents do not punish a child directly. But when a child does not finish an activity, Parents indirectly punish the child by saying " I will not play with you if you do not do this'. Or they may even tease the child by saying something like " If you are a superman, why couldn't you do it?" Unsuccessful attempts should never be discouraged. Here is a chance for us adults to let the child know that 'it is ok to fail'.

Sixth, do not praise the child for doing new task/activities successfully.

This rule is most often broken by modern parents. When the child does an activity well, they give 'High Five', or a chocolate, or praise like " You are a good child", or " You are a superman". When we praise the child for 'successful outcome', we unconsciously promote the idea that "Succeeding in a task is more important than Trying to do the task'. When you praise the child too often in this way, such a child stops taking new activities where the chances of failing are high. For a child, getting praise is more important than doing a difficult activity and failing in it. That is why, in Montessori, the rule of 'No Praise' works.

Seventh, if you observe him failing for a long time, offer him 'strategies' to negotiate the difficulty,

Do not offer specific help to the child. Offer him 'rules'. He should apply the rule in his specific situation. Never give specific instructions to the child. Type of new task however determines the strategy.The task may be purely cognitive ( such as remembering the names of fruits), pure motor tasks (such as jumping on a bar with both legs), or a mixture of both ( such as seeing the shape of cylinder and matching it with right hole).

For instance, rule like ' Put the needle in the cloth from the same side' is useful for a child to weave a button. Or ' Look at the length of the cylinder and hole before putting the cylinder in the hole' is useful to put cylinders in the right hole.  Sometimes the best strategy is to follow another child , such as for pure motor tasks.

In a Montessori, the adult teacher devises customised strategies to negotiate the challenge zone that are unique for a child and his/her situation.

Summary

In a real Montessori environment, a child is offered hundreds of new activities where the child learns to negotiate his/her challenge zone again and again. From a single material kit like Cylinder block, 120 different exercises of varying difficulties can be offered. Child gets repeated opportunities to learn from one challenge and incorporate those learnings to negotiate the next challenge zone. Even if he fails in one, he still finds other activities that helps him regain his confidence. If he succeeds, he finds another challenge where he can test himself.

I think that this repeated pattern of negotiating challenge zones in a Montessori makes a Montessori child 'fail-proof'. This 'small' difference in his early age helps the child in taking tough challenges in his future life, which i think is a biggest gift that Montessori offers to a child.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Utilise freedom to inculcate discipline in the child

Generally, freedom and discipline are supposed to be opposites. This is because we have given our own meanings to these two words. While freedom is supposed to mean 'You can do whatever you want to', while discipline means 'do what adults say'.

Image Credit: Sapience Montessori House of Children

Dr Maria Montessori gave a different twist to these words and created a new method to help the child develop 'character traits' ( we also call them personality traits) such as patience, focus and independence. 

Discipline 

She classified discipline into two categories : Internal discipline and External discipline. Generally, we as adults are more concerned about external discipline which we can visibly see in a child - does he do whatever he is doing without getting distracted, does he disturb others, does he damage the material. She however asserted that this 'external discipline' behaviour is the consequence of 'internal discipline'. So instead, she urged teachers to focus on developing 'internal discipline' in the child. 

Freedom 

But how to achieve internal discipline in a child ? Her counter-intuitive answer was 'Use freedom'. She gave 'restricted' freedom to the child that is compatible to the nature of the child.

For instance, in Montessori environment, the child is given complete freedom to choose his own activity from the myriad of activities, every day. He has the freedom to move in the environment and observe anyone doing it . Child has the freedom to do her activity at her own pace and not do what the rest of the students in the class are doing.

But this freedom is not without restriction. For instance, child can choose his own activity, provided he has been presented earlier and provided it is available on the rack. If it is not on the rack, he has to wait for other child to finish. This is how he develops patience. Child can do any activity in his own way, provided she does not misuse the material. For instance, a child cannot use pink tower to play Lego. This helps her respect the proper usage of the material. Or the child can move in the environment freely, provided he does not distract other child. This helps the child to develop 'social intelligence'.

On the other hand, the child is given complete freedom in areas which matter to him a lot. For instance, he can eat at whatever time he wants. Or he can go in the outer environment at any time. Or, he can do 'nothing' if he is upset about something. He can refuse to take new activity and assert his independence. He can repeat an easy activity to feel good about himself.  

Outcome of using freedom for developing internal discipline

Dr Maria Montessori carefully orchestrated the freedom that suits the nature of the child. This leads to a child who becomes independent, self-learning, and observant. A child in Montessori, for instance, learns to do many 'blindfold' activities without cheating himself, because the child understands the benefit of learning.

Conventional schools, on the other hand, manage this freedom in a wrong way. By forcing child to do a pre-decided activity, they disregard the child's willingness to learn. By making every student learn at the 'same' pace, they force every child to disregard their own individual grasping ability forcing him to miss a lot. By restricting his movement in the class, they take away the child's opportunity to  learn from seeing others doing it.

How can you use this wonderful rule of freedom at home for a child age 3-6?

When we discussed these methods in a parent's meeting, following three ideas emerged:

1. Re-negotiate choices with the child while eating

Have fixed times to eat. If the child eats in between, he is not hungry at the food time and therefore refuses to have his food. If the food is new to him/her, give him the choice to eat or not. But once the child sits on the dining table, which should suit his small size, do not give him choice to move while eating. Do not use TV to distract him. Do not use mobile to let him play games. Make him sit with others until the food is over. Do not force him to eat, but he must sit at the table.  

2. Re-negotiate choices with the child while sleeping

Prepare him for bed. A good cue is to change his dress while sleeping, if possible. While going to bedroom, dim the lights. While going to bed, if possible, give him options like : listening to music, singing a lullaby, or telling a story. If you wish to tell him a story, restrict him to one story. Children often ask for many stories. One of the parent suggested a new method to restrict the story to one. If you ask the child to 're-tell the first narrated story',  he is not able to 'recount the story' at this age. This helps us to restrict the story to 1.

3. Give restricted freedom to the child in public places like roads, malls, and trains

In public places, safety is paramount. In these situations, do not negotiate the choices with the child. If the child is told to hold your hands ( as far as possible , do not hold his hand), he must hold it irrespective of anything. If the child refuses to listen, be stern. There is no need of raising voice. A stern look is good enough. But if the child refuses to listen, warn him. For instance, warn him that he will be taken back to home. And do it , if the child does not listen.

At the end, the child must develop his internal discipline, not external discipline. He should become independent in making his choices. It is easy to make the child listen to 'us'. But in a long run, it does not help. Because we do not want our child to depend on us to make his choices all the time.


Saturday, October 24, 2015

Designing and narrating stories for your child


Parents of children between age 3-6 must learn to design their own stories for their children, because the stories available in the market are either irrelevant or inadequate to meet the child's requirement. 

Here are three reasons why you cannot use most of the book stories in the market. 

1. Stories are irrelevant to the child's experience : Current stories in the book market are about fairies, kings and queens or jungle animals. 

Children of this age cannot 'find' any relevance of these stories because they have not experienced 'jungle animals'. Even if you want to help the child to 'imagine', the child can imagine only when you give him an 'anchor' to relate 'imaginary object' with something they have seen or experienced. For instance, if you are telling a story of a jungle lion to your child, he should have at least seen a 'farm' to imagine the 'jungle'.  With no 'anchor', the child is unable to 'connect' with the story and draw any meaningful conclusion. Learning opportunity is missed. 

2. Fantasy stories of Arabian Knights or Panchtantra are not useful to the child of this age, because children at this age cannot distinguish fantasy from reality. From these stories, they often learn incorrect correlations about 'magical lamp', 'flying saucer' or 'magical fruit which can bring the wealth'.

This disconnection from reality often makes the child believe in wrong correlations such as when they believe that 'If I hit another child, that child will not feel the pain' , or 'I can hide in pumpkin', or "I can be as strong as Superman and can ask for ice-cream even at 12 midnight'. Or 'animals can eat or bite me'. Or if his Mom is compelling her to eat, she calls her 'Devil', because she is correlating anything 'unpleasant' with being 'Devil'. As it is, the reality is vast and big. Instead of taking the child closer to the reality, fantasy stories 'distorts' the reality and makes it more difficult for the child to understand reality. We are unknowingly creating a learning hurdle in the child's path. That is why Montessori method does not encourage telling fantasy stories to a child of this age. 

3. Stories often portray pictures with disproportionate figures. For instance, a story of dog and his friend may show the Dog to be 10 times the size of the boy. Or even animals like lion and elephant are not shown proportionately in their sizes. Because of these disproportionate figures, the child cannot 'imagine' the size of elephant until he has seen a 'real elephant'.  A story, instead of helping the child get closer to the reality, takes him 'far away' from the reality.

Designing and narrating your stories 

Because of the above inadequacies in the books available in the market for the children between 3-6, a parent today is compelled to design and narrate his/her stories. Here are five suggestions to design a compelling story that will help child learn and get closer to the reality: 

1. Create Picture stories: A child of age 3 requires pictures to 'use' his imagination to connect with the story. So click real pictures, or use pictures from the net. If a child has experienced the 'event' in the real world, he may not need as much help from pictures. For instance, if the child has used a bus/train to travel, this child can 'relate' with the story of a child 'lost in the bus'. But if the child has never used a bus, he may need some help to imagine the 'bus'. Therefore, as the child reaches the age of 5, he needs less and less pictures to 'appreciate the story'. You can also use a free program like Scratch to create your story. 

2. Stick to a theme in a story: Decide the theme and stick to it.  For instance, the theme could be emotional fears like fear of dark or fear of strangers. Or the theme could be focused on the personal likes such as 'inability to eat fruits' or 'not eating regular lunch' or 'taking too much time to get ready in the morning for the school'. Or the theme could be 'behaviour in social situations' such as 'a child going to mall and reading books in a shop', or a 'child lost on the bus stand'. 

3. Use the same picture story with different objectives: A story can be used to help the child to increase his vocabulary of new words - be it the mother tongue or the second language like English. Or the story can be used to help the child face his/her emotions, such as fear of dark, or fear of detaching from mother when mother goes to the market, fear of small insects. A child is unable to 'name' his fear because he is not 'aware' of his emotion. Instead of feeling that ' I should be a superman and not be afraid of insects', child needs validation from adults that 'It is OK to be afraid'. A story can help the child 'experience' and 'name' the emotion.

4. Dramatise the story while narrating it:  Use the pitch and frequency of sound to express emotions in the story. Use body language if necessary. Use laughter if required. The story narrating is a one-man act. The more emotions you can show in the story, the better the child can 'connect and retain' it. Of course, the emotions should be appropriate.

5. Involve the child in the story by asking questions: A story for an older child can be a 'monologue', but a story for a child between 3-6 should be a 'dialogue'. Involve the child in the story by asking him questions. 

Involving the child also helps you understand your child better. If the story is about fear of dark, ask him 'if he ever got afraid of darkness'.  If your child is 'masking emotion', that is a big input for you to understand your child. You may also get surprise answers to your questions. For instance, when i asked a child what he remembered about the trip to another school, the child told me about the 'van' he enjoyed to go to the school. 

Summary

If parents can learn this art of designing and narrating a story, it can help them in achieving all the four objectives: understand their child better, train the child in increasing 'emotional' range, help them in conversing smartly, and above all, take them one step closer to the 'real world'. We are often in a hurry to help the child 'imagine', but please remember, imagination without an anchor to the real world is just an escape for the child from facing the tougher reality. 

We have formed a group of parents who are designing their own stories. We shall post one of the story here to help you understand the 'template of a good story' for a child between 3-6 age.  

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Help the child to pause in his daily routine

Background

Often parents, in the haste to make their children super achievers, offer children learning kits and options one after another. They take their children to 'activity centers'. They buy 'learning kits' like travel kits from websites and give them to children to 'occupy' their time. They take their children to ' Art Clubs'. They take their children to 'Language classes'. What can this lead to? 



Unknowingly all these 'activities' take the child to the one extreme end of the learning spectrum. Children use Brain's Executive Attention Network ( EAN) to learn from their activities. But children also have to use brain's Default Mode Network (DMN) to help them reflect, pause, process and imagine the data they have culled from doing the activities. 

Without using enough DMN, child just moves from one activity to another. The child may become hyperactive. Without DMN, the child does not develop the patience to do the activity again when he/she encounters failure. Without DMN, the child does not process the information 'mentally' in the background which is so critical in learning.  

Instead of pushing your child to do new activities all the time, if you allow the child to pause and reflect, it will help your child retain what he has learnt, but also use it further. Here are 4 ideas to help your child , between the age of 2.5 to 4, to help him become better learner.

1. Tell Stories to the children 

Children imagine themselves in the character of stories. This imagination helps them pause and reflect. At this age, use picture books to tell the story, because the child finds it easier to utilise his limited imagination to understand the story. Because picture book stories available in the market are not well designed, use one of the two options. Either use the picture books available in the market, but create your own stories. Or click your own pictures and make your own picture book. 

To make the story interesting, follow these 5 guidelines at the minimum. 1> Dramatise the story by acting the feelings or actions. If the child cannot understand that 'there is a bird behind the curtain' narrated in the story, show him the curtain. 2> Make the story short, not more than 5-10 minutes at a time. 3> Ask questions while narrating the story. For instance, if the story is about a child going in a 'mall', ask the child if he has gone to the mall. Wait and let the child talk about the mall before continuing the story further. 4> The story should have relevance in the child's life. Do not, for instance, tell stories about going to the jungle, because the child cannot relate to it. Instead tell him about going to the 'garden' or 'farm'. 5> Try to have a 'mystery' component in the story. Mystery component is a component which the child is struggling to understand. For instance, children cannot express their fear about dark or of big sound. Weave the story around 'dark'. Or children are scared of missing mom. Or children have questions that make them worry about 'insects biting'. Weave stories around those themes.

2. Slow the pace of the child's daily routine

Often the child is busy doing one activity of another during the day. We feed his 'activity-ness' by constantly offering him new activities. Instead do the reverse. Pause the button of the child by using some of these ideas.

For instance, play instrumental music in the background in the morning. Show the child insects and talk to him about insects. Involve the child in activities that promote introspection like colors or painting. Or making mud sculpting. Or gardening. Or cleaning cars and vehicles. Or, very simply, find a group of playing children, and let him play with them. 

3. Involve the child in 'real' activities 

Do not give him 'game activities'. The child knows that these activities are meant to 'test' him.

Instead involve the child in house-hold activities like cutting vegetables, sifting grains, peeling beans, cleaning utensils, arranging mattress, replacing bed sheets, cleaning crockery and so on. Take care to give him items which are non-breakable. Give him items which are small in size and weight.Give him separate material to do his work which should be according to his size. For instance, if you want your child to broom, use broom of small size. 

4. Design activities with 'constraints'

For instance, if you want to give your child mop to clean, design the full activity. Mark the space where he can use mop, put a small bucket of water and fill it with appropriate amount, have a mop of small size to mop, show him how to dry the mop before using it again. Only after this entire activity is designed , demonstrate it to him before giving it to him.

Or for instance, while telling him to water the plants, do not give him carte blanche. Give him a specific instruction like 'Please water only rose plants'. Or 'Please water hibiscus plant'. Please request him to pour water at the trunks and not leaves. If he asks why, tell him the reason.

Summary

Please do not get misled by the child's constant desire of seeking new activities. His large number of neurons wants constant stimulation. But if you want your child to learn, not just remember items by rote, it is better to help him pause and reflect on 'what he is doing'.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Brain development myths and pre-schooling

Myths of brain development have contributed to the proliferation of pre-schools. There are many myths of brain. Here is one list. We shall discuss here about three top most myths that affect pre-schoolers.

1. Myth 1: Brain is plastic only till the age of 6: Many parents today believe in this myth and therefore are eager to put their child in the pre-school. They believe that if the brain is kept 'idle', it will remain un-utilised, and therefore the child will not develop better. This myth has been busted and is not considered to be true. Our brain is plastic enough to change at any age. So do not put your child in pre-school, because his brain is more plastic at this age.

But why is it still important for a child to learn the 'right way' till the age of 6? It is due to 'brain wiring'. Each of our brains is wired differently depending on where we start, what we experience, and how we learn. This 'wiring' is unique for each of us. So if we learn 'numbers' in a particular way, for instance, our wiring will be happen in that specific way. And our future learning also gets 'channelised' due to the existing wiring. Certain types of brain wiring, for instance, how we learn to react to people or how we develop patience impact our 'future learning' much more than, say the way we learn 'a subject like geography'. Montessori is more helpful because it helps child to properly wire his development of 'traits' like patience, concentration and overcoming the fear of failing, instead of wiring the 'content' of subjects.

2. Myth 2: Our brain impressions are permanent: This myth makes parent believe that whatever the child learns at the age of 3-6 stays with him forever. Once again, this understanding is mistaken. When we learn something for the first time, we use our 'memory' to retain it. If we however do not repeat this often, we lose the 'content'.

How does the child retain the 'content' for a long time? He/she retains it by using five tricks: repetition, use of emotion, interest, understand the relevance and interlinking. These five keys help the child  retain the 'content' for a long time. That is why, when the child  repeats the content again and again, the child retains it after few repetitions. How do we make the child repeat 'content again? 

One is by force. For instance, ask the child to 'write' 1 to 100 three times in his homework every day. This use of force however creates unintended consequences. It 'distorts' the will of the child and makes the child feel 'helpless'. The state of 'helplessness' affects the child's overall learning, because he loses motivation. This is what happens in normal pre-school. After the initial spurt of learning new content, the child soon loses his motivation to learn. Morever, it also affects his future learning of  arithmetic, because the foundation of his brain wiring of 'numbers' is not proper.

On the other hand, Montessori uses 'interest' to fuel the repetition. A child in Montessori repeats an activity due to his/her interest. And because every child can take the material on his own ( there is no group learning in Montessori), he can repeat it as many times as he individually wants. This repetition enables the child to first master the 'fine motor skills' but also the later 'sensory' impressions. Even when the child is 'taught' numbers, he learns it in a 'fundamentally proper' way. This helps his brain to 'wire' the numbers in an appropriate way, which later helps the learning of numbers through an appropriate channel.  

Myth 3: Brain has compartments for different content and skills: This myth has resulted in misdirected strategies of learning. One is , for instance, left brain-right brain compartmentalization. Now researchers agree that brain does not have these left brain-right brain compartments. 

But this dichotomy has resulted into various misdirected learning strategies. For instance, Left brain retains analytical content and right brain retains imagination. So to teach imagination, some pre-schools teach content like 'drawing, music or craft'. Naturally this does not help the child to 'imagine' better. On the other hand, Montessori takes a different approach. It trains the child to build 'reproductive imagination' which later can mature into 'creative imagination' using the entire brain, not just one part of the brain

Another myth arising out of this compartments is that we have different learning styles. For instance, some learn by 'doing', some by 'visual pictures'. Once again, this is just a myth. We may prefer to use a specific  mechanism of learning more than other, but that is not determined by our 'brain'. It is determined by our 'initial wiring'.

If you are interested in knowing more about brain development in simple language, see this http://www.brainrules.net/. 

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