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Learning from the environment

Parents and teachers must find ways to encourage children’s engagement with their immediate environment to enrich their learning. The possibilities are virtually limitless, as the following examples show:

  • Parents could use the bird’s nest in their backyard or terrace to help their children learn about birds, the kinds of nest they build, how they are camouflaged or otherwise hidden from view, the color of the eggs (birds’ eggs come in a variety of colors and designs), the days they take to hatch, and how long it takes for the chicks to grow wings leave the nest. (But do be careful of fiercely protective mama and papa birds. In some bird species size does not matter when it comes to defending home and hearth)
  • Take your child to the local supermarket (or the cinema or your favorite restaurant, etc.) and then help him or her map the route you have taken
  • Or, a group of children could work together to map their school premises

The point that I am trying to make here is that educators and parents must be willing to go beyond books and make the time to provide children with diverse learning opportunities. The reason that such experiences are crucial to the learning process is that the human brain grows at its fastest till the age of eight. A child’s ‘natural’ curiosity is actually manifestation of its growing brain’s hunger for experiences that it can process into knowledge.

Don’t underestimate your child’s capacity to learn by it. My daughter, then about five years old, was present at a conversation between grownups about converting garbage to fuel. In her own way, she decided that she had the solution and presented me with her ‘design’ of a garbage-fueled car – a child’s two- dimensional sketch of a box-on-wheels, a car, pulling a smaller box on wheels, which was a cart piled high with trash.

For a few moments, I was at a loss for words. Then I asked my daughter what she had drawn. She pointed to the bigger box and said that it was a car. She then showed a spot on the box and said that it was the fuel tank into which you put the trash to run the car. To her, it was as simple as that!

Suppress the natural curiosity for experiences to learn from and you lose a potentially productive individual. Had I told her then that this was not the way things work , I would have imposed a boundary on her imagination and, who knows, even killed her creativity.

Without intending to set off a debate, I personally do not think that learning activities should remain solely in the teacher’s domain. It should, desirably, be a collaborative effort between the class teacher and parents. Classroom lessons are important but the real challenge is in helping children to relate what they learn in class to the world they live in. This is where parents can play an important role.

You must have noticed that I have avoided jargon and not once have used the verb ‘teach’. Instead, the focus of this post was on helping children to learn well on their own.