I remember my elder son’s first day of school. After a year of Mom & Me classes, the day had finally come when he would be attending school on his own. It would probably be the most emotional day for me as the mother, having realized that the time had finally come for my son to spread his wings. Choosing a pre-school for my son had not been a difficult task. My husband and I were always very clear on the kind of school we want for our children; a school that would focus on letting them live, make learning fun and focus on helping them experience their childhood. We were lucky enough to find a school whose philosophies matched ours. But this is now.
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A video called 'The Kindergarten' by Innovative Global Education was sent to me recently and talks about Friedrich Froebel's (who laid the foundation for modern education) Children's Garden and about the US education system. The content of that video made an incredible impact on me and got me thinking about our children. Times are changing and the way children are being taught is contrasting compared to a few decades ago when the teaching methods were traditional and text book based. We as parents along with the schools are now focusing on changing what we want our children to grow up learning. The focus is less on WHAT they learn but rather on HOW they learn.
"I want my daughter to go to IIT when she grows up”, “I want my son to study Medicine and become a famous Doctor when he grows up”, “Why are you playing with a Chef’s hat and frying pan? You need to be sitting and doing a page from your workbook and not wasting time playing”, “Unless you can sit in this chair for a half hour and write the numbers 1-50, you are not getting up”. I think these and similar statements are ones that we are all too familiar with as parents; we have either said it ourselves at one point or another or have over- heard another parent say it. These statements are also nothing out of the ordinary. But if we dig a little deeper, are they conducive to helping our children grow? We all have ambitions for our children. It is natural to want to check off pre-defined milestones at each age of development. I am sure most parents when asked “what do you want your child to be when he/she grows up?” will answer “anything, if he/she is happy doing it.” It is also human to know from the day your child is born, which college he/she will attend, or have specific ambitions for your child – Doctor, Lawyer, Scientist and so on. Having said this, how do we make sure that we do not pressure our children very early on to meet certain expectations that we have set for them?
It is not an uncommon sight to see a childhood be taken over by homework, hours of practice workbooks, tuition and tests. For many, this is the best way for their child to learn and become successful in life. Often the discussion here is whether we are limiting the child’s overall growth by doing this. Children thrive when imagination and creativity is nurtured. They are built to learn by experiencing various touches, smells, sounds, sights and tastes. But sitting for hours in a classroom learning only from a text book does not achieve this. Evaluating children based on how long they can sit still in a chair without standing up, how long they can keep quiet and how they perform on tests, paints only half a picture of the child’s potential. The strengths are over-looked and sometimes take a back seat. We end up imposing a glass ceiling, which is an invisible barrier on their growth, not realising the long-term impact that this ceiling will create. We end up limiting their capabilities.
Learning was a rocky journey for me growing up. I was never a good test-taker and reading and studying from text books was something I never related to. Even at the pre-school level, I would find myself looking for someone to come up with creative ways to teach me a concept so that I could understand it better. Later however, the level of understanding was judged on material that was taught only one way and on test scores. There were never-ending parent-teacher conferences where my mother was told that I needed to get better grades and that I needed extra help with certain things. In my head, there was a voice screaming “I know my stuff!” but unfortunately it was a silent voice which would never be heard.
After having children of my own, I knew immediately that I wanted the world for them. I wanted to give them the opportunity to feel the sand slip through their fingers every day at the same time learning about different textures, watch centipedes inching along in the grass at the same time learning about how many legs it has, splash with all their might in a splash pool at the same time learning what floats and sinks in water. I was clear that as a parent, my energy, time and resources needed to be placed in the right places. Even though my elder son is only 3 years old right now, I have quickly come to realise that the best gift I have probably given him is free time, enabling him to discover himself and his passions.
We need to take a step back and put into perspective what it is that we really want for our children. Parents often have similar hopes and dreams for their children. As I always say, there is no right and wrong parenting style; it’s each to their own. Whatever pattern of learning each of us follow, I hope we can help our children unleash their utmost potential. I hope that we can help them rise above the expectations we have set for them, thereby breaking the glass ceiling.