Friday, December 21, 2012

Children learn when they feel free to not learn!

Isha loves bharatanatyam. One day, I had taken her to my friend Ani's dance performance expecting her to sit still and watch it. Not the entire duration, but at least a part of it. We settled down towards the back end to not let her disturb the audience. But much to my disappointment, Isha insisted on moving up and down the aisle, curious to check out people's video cameras as they were recording the dance, climbing up and down the chairs, dancing to herself and doing her own thing. I concluded that she wasn't watching the dance or taking it in! As I was narrating this incident to Dev, my friend and unschooling parent himself, he said "Children absorb everything in their environment in ways that you may not even be able to perceive. So, there is no way for you to tell what she took away from that whole experience. When some experience is overwhelming for children to take in, they distract themselves just as a way to cope with it." Just a few days after that, when Isha was dancing away to some music, I asked her where she had learnt some of those very new movements. She said 'This is how Ani mama danced the other day.' Dev was right!

Everyone at work to make the herb spiral.
Over the past week, a few of us homeschooling families (6 adults and 8 children to be precise) have been working together in a garden for about three hours every day. It needs to be noted here that these sessions were also meant to be an 'educational / learning experience' for the children, which is conventionally defined as one where the 'learner' is paying attention and stays focused on that one thing and just taking it all in. Focus, attention, etc. are definitely important for learning. But there are things more fundamental, more subtle but more important to enable wholistic learning, that unfolded in these gardening sessions. 

* Adults themselves were in the pursuit of learning and exploring, something that they held greatly valuable. The space was offered to the children as co-explorers. Such spaces make children feel empowered to be active participants in the learning.

Children making clay 
Children running around
* Interesting activities - like making a clay paste, collecting stones, etc. were offered. They enliven the senses and deepen the learning experience. 

Children climbing trees
* The children were NOT expected to work or to learn. Nobody was telling them "Listen to what aunty is saying. Come do this. Take notes." They were free to do their own thing. To me, this is one of the most important pre-conditions to learning. The freedom of choice to not learn if they chose not to. Just knowing that she is truly free to walk away enables the child's mind to remain the most absorbant. A child learns because she yearns to, not because she is expected to. What happens in the latter case is 'memorisation of information to please the one who expects'. This usually stays for a short duration. Excepting a few hard workers, the others were walking around (always showing up if there were specific requests by the adults leading the work), climbing trees, collecting snails and earthworms creating a sanctuary, befriending the dog there, just chatting away, fighting, eating, and sitting around doing nothing.  

I am convinced of this. The conditioned adult mind sees 'learning' as something that happens when the child is directly engaged in a particular activity. But learning happens when we are least expecting (especially, least communicating our expectation to) the child to learn. For it is when we least expect that we let the child most free. For it is when she is the most free, that she can most effectively absorb / learn!      

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Unknown said...

Yes, Sangeetha. I am TOTALLY convinced that the parent doesn't need to know what, how and when exactly the child is learning something but learning is always happening whether the adult thinks of it a learning experience or not. For our family, every moment in life is a learning experience no matter what we do. For us gardening with you has been wonderful..for me especially it is a great opportunity to learn something hands on I've been dying to learn these past couple of years. I started gardening in CO with a few pots and left to India with the conviction of having my own vegetable and herb garden wherever I lived and you are helping it come true. Gardening is healing, it is a botany class, worms and bug class, connecting with Nature class all rolled into one and also socialization with like minded people.

Unknown said...

Sorry forgot to add my name in the previous comment.

I also wanted to add that it was wonderful to see how children connect with each other in a mentor-mentee way. Abhinav was showing and explaining about the earth worms and snails to the little ones and they were so attentive and listened to him with great respect. One couldn't have commanded such attentiveness or respect in a formal environment where one has to constantly say "Are you listening?" "Look here, pay attention" etc..I was silently enjoying and basking in the warmth of such environment that I didn't do much and this was my moment of gratitude for the opportunity to homeschool my children in an organic way..

Warmly, Padma