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! 

The trials and joys of motherhood

There are times when I struggle hard to not be competitive with daughter’s milestones. Reading Sari’s post, reminded me of what I had been doing in the last few months.

I have been quite a laid back mother, in comparison to some of the people I know. I have normally let her have fun, learn things when she is ready for them. I knew people who taught their 9 month old, the alphabet or the numbers. I consciously tried not to do that. I mean, there is plenty of time for all that, isn’t there?

Motherhood, unfortunately comes with all sorts of self-doubts and second guessing oneself, doesn’t it?? There came a time, when I started doubting my methods. Poohi had started phonics last year in the nursery, and she had started writing her name – she knew the sounds of some letters, but refused to read. I would try to get her to read a few simple words, but to no avail. She would be too busy trying to get me to do the reading.  I would have not bothered, had it not been for some of my friends who told me that their child started reading all by themselves, by the time they turned four. Now that had me worried. None of these children had been exposed to books as much as Poohi had, and yet they seem to have learnt to read faster. She loves books, loves being read to, and yet did not want to read? What was I doing wrong? Their mums said that they would spend time every day teaching them to read. And I never did that. I was so worried that I was not helping her enough.  Husband said that I was being too hard on myself, and once she starts, there would be no looking back.

I started trying, but it never worked. She knew every story in every book that we owned and would just rattle off the story, without even trying to read it!  All she wanted was for me to read the stories to her. I was torn between trying harder or letting her be.  I did not want to be a pushy mother, but at the same time, did not want to ‘not push her enough’, if you know what I mean.  I was also scared that I might end up putting her off reading altogether, if I tried too hard. That’s when I decided to buy her a set of ‘Read at home’ books, that she had never read before. I told her that these books had to be read by her – I was not allowed to read it to her.

Every time, she expressed some interest in the books, we would sit together and look at the pages. Initially, she was more interested in the pictures, and then, when she realized that I was not going to read the story to her, started reading – just like that! She knew the sounds, and could easily read the words. I would help her with the tougher ones, but it was mainly her own efforts. Now, she picks up the books by herself, with no prompting from me, and reads, whenever she fancies it. Not just that, she also tries to read my books, and is delighted when she finds words that she knows like ‘and’ or ‘this’.I still don’t know if it was that new set of books that did it or it was just the right time for her, but I am just happy that she is reading, and is reading because she enjoys it, not because I am pushing her to read. Because she wants to, not because she has to.

There she is, grabbing a few minutes after breakfast this morning to read. I can’t tell you how much that sight gladdens my heart. I just hope that her interest in books and stories stay with her all her life.

And here is her little library that houses her books