Educating ourselves…

.. is such a huge part of being a parent. There are so many things that I have learnt in the last five years of being a mother. Usha’s post on Perspectives reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend of mine.

She has a daughter a year younger than mine, and she goes to a private school. Before I go further, let me explain the schooling system here. Most children in the primary level go to state schools. Only around 8% or so go to private schools. There are several very good state schools, and if you are in a good state school, the education is quite good, and comparable to private schools.

So this friend of mine sends her child to a private school, and is not very impressed by ‘what they are teaching her’, in her words. Just to put things into perspective, she has been quite worried about her child’s education(or the lack of it) since the time the child was just 3. At that time she was concerned that her daughter did not know how to write. Here, they do not pressurize the children to write, they encourage, and the child picks up when they are ready for it. For some reason, she keeps comparing the education standards with that in India – whether it makes sense or not.

So coming back to her worries, she is worried because the school does not send back daily feedback – no homework, and nothing for the parent to work upon. So I explained to her that it is quite similar in Poohi’s school as well. They don’t really send back much work. They only ask us to spend around 10 minutes a day reading with a child. But that did not satisfy her – it is fine for Poohi’s school to send back no work, because it is a state school(free), but in a private school, where they are paying for an education, they should get the child to do more..

Now this is something I find difficult to get my head around. Paid or not, surely what matters is how well they ensure that the child picks up things. Given the fact that the education system is quite different from what we are used to, back in India, I think we really ought to approach it differently. We cannot after all expect the same sort of studying pattern, curriculum or teaching styles from two very different systems.

Every time I go to Poohi’s school, I can’t help be amazed at the amount of work the teachers put in. I really don’t find anything to complain about nor can I ask for anything more from them. The efforts that the teachers put in ensures that the children are motivated and excited by work. For instance, we got the overview of the curriculum for the next term, at the end of the last term. The children had been told of what they would learn too. One of the topics was ‘Dinosaurs’. Poohi came home excited, opened her book of dinosaurs( we just happened to have a book), and read through everything. Apparently,’When Mrs C asks the class, I can put my hand up!’ was the motivation behind it. She is so excited about learning, that she makes that extra effort without any prompting from anybody else. I can honestly say that this sort of excitement can only come from teachers who have made it all so exciting for them, that they look forward to learning more.

Yes, they might not send home books and books of homework, they might not force children to write or read, but they make it fun, they make it interesting, so much so that the children want to learn more. They are motivated, not pressurized. That is all I ask for! That happiness on daughter’s face when she learns, when she picks up new things, makes links of how dinosaurs dying out is similar to how people evolved from monkeys – what more can a parent ask for? We get to see the work that our children do at school during the Parent teachers evening, and it is amazing! They do a lot at school. They cover so much ground, that there is no real need to send home work. Children do get some work, but it is not a huge amount of stuff, and a lot of it involves a child using her creativity, thinking and understanding what needs to be done. When I see daughter working on her learning logs, I am amazed at how her mind works. It goes to show that young minds are so fresh, and innovative, that they can indeed come up with incredible stuff, if we let them be.

Usha also talks about the environment at home affecting the child. So many times when I hear mothers lamenting that their children show interest only in TV shows and would never pick up a book of their own, I can’t help asking how many times they pick up books instead of the TV remote? Not that being a reading parent guarantees a reading child, but being around books, does encourage a child to read(in my opinion). After all, we parents are the first role models that our children have. Taking a child to the library regularly for an outing will making him/her think of reading as a fun activity rather than a chore or a ‘homework’.

And yes, if you do have genuine grievances, talking to the teachers and understanding their point of view is far more useful isn’t it than worrying and complaining that the teachers are no good? And no matter what we think, children do pick up on what the parent thinks. If the parent is unhappy or dismissive of the teachers efforts, chances are that the child may not take the teacher seriously either..

Every time I hear a parent criticize teachers, I can’t help feel uneasy. While I am sure there are several uncommitted teachers, I am sure that there are plenty of wonderful teachers out there. At least I was lucky to have some great ones.. And Poohi has had wonderful teachers so far. As a parent, what I really want to do is be a team with my child’s teacher, to work along with them, to bring out the best in my child. Yes, there might be times when she might not have the best of teachers, but that is when I will need to step up and be there for her.. And hopefully, I will be able to give her what she needs to learn, to grow and to expand her horizons….

Edited to add: Do read Sheils post on how wonderfully creative learning can be! 

I count my blessings.. Post 17

..every time that I go to daughter’s school.

We had an open morning at school, where parents are invited to come in and observe how their children work at school. It is an amazing experience, and every time I go for an open morning, I come back impressed.

Impressed at the teachers’ patience, the gentle way in which they impart knowledge. I could see every child participating, every child was involved, at some level or the other.

What I really liked was the way the slightly fidgety , not exactly naughty, but more disinterested children were handled. There was a child who was more interested in doing whatever pleased her rather than participate in their group’s activity(the children are divided into groups, and each group was doing a separate activity).  The teacher who was handling the group, would gently bring the child’s attention back to the activity. Gently but firmly, not once losing her temper. I was amazed at her efforts.Eventually, the child started participating. Even when children give the wrong answers, they are just asked to try again and then congratulated when they do come up with the right answer. You could see how the positivity helped the children focus, and improve at what they were doing. By the end of that 15 minute activity, all the children were equally involved and focused. Each activity worked towards a  specific goal. Activities which looked like fun, actually taught them counting, handling money, adding, taking away…

I had written about how we learn better when we enjoy what we learn, sometime back. It just gets reinforced when I see the way daughter’s school works. The children genuinely bond with the teachers, they wait to go to school, last time one of the children hugged the teacher as soon as they got in the class. I was so touched. It just showed to me how much the teachers cared for the children.

Despite the gentle approach, not one child misbehaved. Most of the children were vying to answer questions, they knew the protocol they had to follow, and any time they digressed, all they needed was a gentle reminder from the teachers. Who says children won’t learn unless they are forced?

I might have said this before, but I want to put it on record again, I truly feel glad, that daughter is able to go to a school like this. Where she feels secure, happy and is learning so much.