Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Do we need preschool?

You know, very often I, and I am sure many people who are working in this field, end up having answer questions like- I didn't go to a preschool, neither did my parents/ grand parents ! Why do we need to worry about teaching children so early? Let them have fun.....

I do tend to get on my soap box in such situations, but the facts are simple. 

There are scientific/ biological justifications for paying attention to early years........

There are economic reasons for paying attention to early years.........

There is also the child rights issue for paying attention to early years........

Add to this the fact that children are not "adults-waiting-to- grow-up", they are intelligent human beings who need and respond to a positive environment, here and now! Not after they turn 7 or 12 or 15 or 18 or whatever magical figure. 

Add to this, the plain and simple fact, what is fun for a young child? 
Is it toys? Is it gadgets? Is it good food? 

Or is it a safe and secure environment ? An environment that is rich in interactions with the child? An environment that recognises the needs and requirements of the individual child and adapts itself accordingly? And allows children to play?  Is it the presence of a person who looks at the child with a genuine positive regard? And talks to the child? And listens to the child? 

In a nutshell, spends time interacting meaningfully with the child...........

If that goes missing in the young child's life , then yes, preschool becomes a mandatory "intervention"!

If I didn't go to a preschool ( in good old times) it was because the preschool was at home with me- my grandparents talked to me, listened to me; my father/mother, aunts, uncles all made me do little things at home that I could handle; there were enough things to DO at home;  my elder siblings and cousins and neighbours children taught me all the social skills & pre-literacy skills needed for me survive in the formal school. 

Sure, we can do away with preschool education, as soon as we can get back all the benefits of the "good old times"!!

Parting shot- we have thrown the baby out with bathwater, haven't we?? 
Preschool Education- The base for all later education

If we look at the beginning of any skill that we have learnt in our life, and trace it’s origin in our lifespan, we find that the roots or the foundations for these skills lie in the years from birth to 7 years. Most child development experts and psychologists also concur with this. 
Knowing this helps us plan for providing  the best possible environment for children to grow up in. A play home or a preschool is the first step for the child outside of his sheltered home environment, where s/he starts truly functioning as an individual rather than just as a part of the Mother-Child dyad. 
Thus, pre-school education is one of the most important services that has to be planned out carefully and appropriately, more so perhaps than secondary school or higher education. 
Preschool education is any structured program offered for early childhood education. These may follow one of several methods and pedagogies, like Montessori, Waldorf (Steiner) , play way, Nursery, Kindergarten (Froebel) or a mix of all these methods. They may be offered through private preschools or government-run Anganwadis.   
Whatever be the methodology or the theoretical framework followed by  a preschool education program, there are certain basic things that a preschool program has to follow. The basic purpose of any preschool education is to provide an environment that is conducive to overall development. By this we mean all activities, experiences and materials have to focus on development of good health; physical fitness and motor skills; positive emotional and social health; good communication skills; intellectual curiosity and exploration; independence and self-expression.
There are certain methods that are required to be used for achieving these purposes, whether it is teaching the child concepts like colours, shapes or anything else. 
The first and foremost thing that has to be kept in mind is the readiness that the child has for learning whatever is being offered. The child’s growth, maturity and development should determine what the next “lesson” is going to be, not the “curriculum” or “syllabus”. Forcing the child to learn things s/he is not ready for is the pathway to surface and short-term learning gains only. The results of this kind of incomplete learning in preschool years is definitely going to tell in the later years- in fact, as early as IIIrd standard. 
Just as we cannot hurry the preschool child, we should not hold back the child either. Young children have an innate need and inclination towards new learning, and progress at varying speeds. Not only do young children learn at different speeds, they also learn in different ways. Some need to see things and learn, some listen and learn, some touch and learn, and some others learn through movement. Many also will learn using more than one of these methods.  Any good preschool system has to cater  not only to the varying needs of the children in it’s classrooms, but also the varying modalities of learning. 
The preschool child is one who will learn by doing. Abstract concepts have no impact on this child. S/he has to explore the environment ,  do things and learn. The chalk-and-talk method would work in higher grades, but is not much use during preschool years. For this reason, all activities have to be meaningful and hands-on for the child- whether it is counting or learning the alphabet. For building skills and concepts to last a lifetime, they need to be taught experientially. In this context, it is important to mention that repetition has it’s own role to play in concretising concepts in the young mind. If a preschool child insists on repeating activities of a particular nature, s/he should to be allowed to do so. 
Preschool systems need to build in maximum play into their daily routines. These children are full of energy and imagination. Play is the main vehicle for their growth, development and learning. Through play they can learn motor skills, social skills, develop positive personality traits, benefit intellectually, build their language repertoire, and so on and so forth. In fact, research now points out that children who have adequate opportunities to play in early childhood perform significantly better in later academics and have better life skills. On a flip note, look how much we spend in later life, from school to working life onwards, to develop “personality and life skills”. All we needed to do was let our preschoolers play!!
The preschool child is like a sponge- as Montessori terms it- The Absorbent Mind. The sponge will absorb whatever kind of water it is dipped into. It will not be able to discriminate dirty from clean water, but will absorb everything. So too these young minds. The environment around the children in early childhood will be taken in by children as is. For this reason, preschool education has to ensure a positive environment at any cost. There has to be an affectionate environment which is stimulating and rich in language, amongst other things. A positive, warm and caring environment and adult in the preschool will make a vast difference to the children’s learning capacities and skills. It will also ignite a zest for and love of learning in the child, which will yield many positive results in later life.
The last, but not the least, important thing to keep in mind in the planning for preschool education is the choice of content in the curriculum. Not only does it have to be developmentally appropriate, it has to connect meaningfully with the child in real-life terms. The child has to make a meaning out of any preschool activity and connect it to real life. Otherwise, there is no assurance that whatever has been taught will stay for any significant period of time. This is particularly true about the teaching of languages. Children will struggle to learn reading and writing if we are not able to connect the skills to real life instead of teaching them as rote memorisation and mechanical hand activities respectively. If we start teaching things from what is known to the child, s/he immediately makes meaning out of it, connects to the activities and gets maximum benefit out of the experience.
If we want our preschoolers to learn to spell and write c-h-r-y-s-a-n-t-h-e-m-u-m or h-i-b-i-s-c-u-s, 

we have to give them these flowers to see, touch and smell- a workbook alone is not going to help at all !!  
[ published in DH, Bangalore]

Thursday, 8 October 2015

And then there is this............

I came across this on one of the rare occasions that I read the newspaper!
Before you dismiss it with a shrug and a wry smile, read the complete article. 
Where are the ideas coming from? 
Are people right in offering and enrolling for these "courses"? 
Is there a demand for such courses? Who would enrol? 
And finally, why do we need such course?
The activities and premises that these courses offer are nothing new. The essential difference is earlier our Moms, Grannies, Aunts and elder sisters and cousins "ran" these "courses" for us!!!
Most ideas that come up in society are often spawned by a demand from the society. So can we assume, that the moms/sisters/aunts/cousins are not running these "courses" anymore? 
In that case, someone has to do it for the young moms, right? 
Do you think these courses would be cheap? Or accessible to , say moms in Tier 2 and 3 cities? 
Points to ponder. I have nothing against the courses, as long as they are helping some of the young moms. 
We do need to think why they have become a "course".............

Friday, 4 September 2015

What is Play? Hmmmmm......

When we think of a child or portray a child in any medium, what is the predominant image that comes to mind? More likely than not, it is the image of a child or children Playing.
So, what after all is Play and why is it important? What kind of play do children like? What are they gaining out of this activity?
Let us work on a basic premise- That each and every child is born with the natural drive for growth, development and learning. I think this bottom line no one who has anything to do with children will argue with. Given that this is so, what is the most natural method by which the child reaches these developmental goals? Play, of course.
To define play is at the same time easy and very difficult. It has been called many things- “the work of the child”; “the vocation of a child”.
Children take ownership of all their learning and new information when they play with it. Moreover play is probably one of the most predominant intrinsically motivated activity, which supports positive tendencies like curiosity, alertness, creativity and divergent thinking. All the traits which we try to “inculcate” in a child by artificial and contrived means. As it turns out, all that it requires is- time and facility for free play.
Play also builds competencies, skills, success and confidence in the children in a very natural manner and ensures that these traits stay for a long time.
Play, especially pretend play, helps the child gain autonomy, express emotions, learn cooperation and sharing, accept diversity of various kinds, and helps compensate for feelings of inferiority.
Clearly children learn a lot of things from play, but more enriching reward for the child is the sheer pleasure and happiness it brings to the child. Play has to be thought of as a goal in itself and not a means to an end. The other benefits have to be counted as “bonus” or “side benefits” of play rather than the goals of childhood play.
What do children like to play with? Given all the technological advances of today’s fast-paced life, there is still no toy better than a caring and giving adult. Nothing replaces the human interactions in the child’s environment.
Is it not strange that we have to do propaganda and float policies to "encourage" something that was second nature to us, and is as natural as breathing for children across generations and countries? Think about it.......


I have started this blog with the idea of sharing views experiences and opinions regarding anything to do with early childhood and special needs.
Hoping for a long and fruitful interaction with all those interested in early childhood.