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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

If you choose learning over development, schools will happily oblige

Raageshwari, a 4 year child studying in a Montessori school, had recently learnt the words which has 'ch' and 'sh' as one of the sound. That day, Raageshwari told her mother, who is a professor, what she learnt at school. In her eagerness to help her daughter,  Raageshwari's mother opened up a dictionary and started narrating words with 'ch' and 'sh' to Raageshwari. She asked  her daughter to write those words in her notebook. She listed out almost 24 words. Rageshwari got 23 right. Raageshwari's mother was very happy with her child's progress. Buoyed by her success, Raageshwari's mother started giving her new words every day whenever she was taught a new sound, say like 'sk'. Raageshwari's mother thought that she was helping her daughter ! **

While educating a child, especially a child less than 6 years of age, there always comes a time when there is a conflict between development (developing qualities in a child like concentration or willpower) and learning (such as learning English words, or counting numbers). And like Raageshwari's mother, we often (sometimes unknowingly) choose learning over development !

When traditional schools make the mistake of promoting learning at the cost of development, the mistake is 'understandable'. However, even when your child is in Montessori school ( which is development centric) you still have to be careful. Today's parents have to understand the trade-offs normally done in child's education, and not just blindly try to help their child that will 'undo' the 'development growth' of a Montessori child. 

Whenever i meet parents ( during my coaching sessions), they always tend to assume that ''development traits' can be fitted in a child like 'plug and fit' piece. They feel that child is like a toy-machine, whose 'development' mistake can be corrected anytime by just 'screwing the nut and bolt tighter'. For them, having a will-power is just a matter of resolve and serious intention. Ignorant of the arithmetic of development, most of the parents, such as Raageshwari's mother, just 'focus' on learning, instead of helping the child to 'practice will-power'. 

Raageshwari's mother came to know about her mistake only when Saritha, Montessori Adult (a teacher is called as Adult in a Montessori environment) called her to the school after a month.

Saritha asked her 'if there is something odd happening in the home'. When Raagheshwari's mother replied that everything was fine, Saritha looked surprised. She told Raageshwari's mother that lately she has observed a significant difference in her child's  behaviour. She told that Raageshwari has been constantly pestering Saritha for help, which was very unlike Raageshwari. 

For instance, when Saritha taught new sounds, Raageshwari kept on asking Saritha 'for words' instead of finding them by herself. Or when Raageshwari came  in the morning, she asked Saritha for direction of what should she do. When Raageshwari wanted to go for lunch, she came to Saritha to ask  for permission. When Raageshwari wanted to rest, she asked Saritha's permission. Saritha  was surprised to see that Raageshwari was unable to make simple choices. When Raageshwari's mother told Saritha on how she has been helping her daughter with words, Saritha understood the root cause of Raageshwari's behaviour.

Helping child to develop will-power requires a huge effort and attention to details. One of the component of willpower is to help the child practice making simple choices between seemingly similar alternatives. Montessori environment is carefully designed to confront the child in making choices by creating different scenarios. For instance, a child is encouraged to choose her own work from the 300 odd activities. Even if the child comes to the Adult to find what she should do, the Adult will simply tell the child " There are many activities that you have learnt. What would you like to do?'. Even if the child wants to rest and not do any work, the child is 'never asked why'. The child's choice is respected. ( Montessori environment also has a rest place for a child!) If the child wants to help others, she is indirectly encouraged because that makes the child 'independent'. In short, all seemingly simple decisions are 'pushed back' to the child so that the child  practices them repeatedly. Initially, a child will be nervous and keep on asking help from the adult; but slowly and surely, she learns to develops her ability to take these decisions. 

By helping Raageshwari to find more words, Raageshwari's mother unknowingly discouraged her daughter in finding her own words. This ready-made help prevented Raageshwari in using her own 'ability' to find more words on her own. She became dependent on her mother to find more words. This dependence became so 'habitual' to Raageshwari that she started finding it difficult to make even simple choices such as 'which activity to work in the morning' and so on. Slowly and surely, she started pushing her decisions on others, because these decisions invoke lot of anxiety in the child in the first place. 

Raageshwari's mother's unnecessary help to her daughter helped her learning of English words, but discouraged her ability to become independent. It took Saritha 3 months to correct the Raageshwari's development behaviour, because Saritha spotted the mistake early enough. It takes huge amount of effort and patience to develop such qualities in the children, but it can be 'undone' easily by such a 'small' mistake.

If you are a parent who is proud of your child's ability to recite a table of 9, instead of her ability to choose between green dress and blue dress, you are unknowingly making it difficult for your child to develop. If you are a parent who is proud of your child's ability to recount 30 words in a jiffy, instead of her ability to 'concentrate on her work for 10 minutes', you are unknowingly making it difficult for your child to 'develop'. Schools will be happy to help your child 'learn', instead of develop, because it is easier for them.

Please remember that a mistake in learning can be rectified easily even at a later age, but a development mistake becomes more and more and more difficult to rectify with passing age. Until parents understand the arithmetic of development, they will continue to make wrong decisions !

** Source of case: Dew Drops Montessori House of Children, Bangalore

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