These days there is a lot of emphasis on teaching kids as many things as possible and as early as possible at that. Parents begin singing nursery rhymes,alphabets, numbers, shlokas to the baby inside the womb. Till he or she is inside, only auditory methods are used to "teach", but the moment babies come out into this world, they are exposed to various other modes of stimulation like visual, kinesthetic, and tactile. This is not something new. Kids have been learning this way ever since human race came into existence. The only difference is that earlier these stimulations happened naturally and instinctively, and now, a lot of conscious effort goes into "exposing and teaching" the child right from the time of conception. It’s almost like forced learning, which has taken over a mother’s natural and innate capability to teach various things to her child.
For an overall development there are 4 basic parts of teaching and learning in the case of children.
Love and affection
Happiness accelerates learning. When a child is stress-free, feels loved unconditionally and is showered with affection, he or she grows with a deep confidence in himself and in his parents and with a genuine curiosity to know and discover without fear. This confidence and curiosity form the foundation for learning for years to come.
Good sleep and right nutrition
Good learning starts and ends with a fresh, alert and healthy mind and body. An apple a day keeps the doctor away, early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy wealthy and wise; these are not just old sayings. They have a lot of truth in them. Nutritious eating and healthy sleep habits provide strength, stamina and energy to the child, to keep infections at bay and to focus on his or her environment with interest and attention. Poor nutrition may even lead to learning disabilities.
Exposure and repetition
It is important to expose various things to the child and not limit learning to alphabets, concepts, numbers and rhymes. It is more important to unburden yourself from the pressure of "what are they learning when I am showing them this leaf- is it pattern, shape, environment, or color?". Because the pressure of teaching concepts with everything can actually make you neglect something in which you don’t find a concept. So the best idea is to generally expose things to the child, show various aspects of each thing and leave it to the child to absorb what he or she wants. Children need repetition to remember.
So it may not suffice to teach something "once and for all". Teaching a child is a continuous and on-going process with lots of repetitions with innovations.
Trust on innate capabilities
When a child responds well when something is taught to him, it excites and encourages parents to teach him more. Out of their genuine excitement, they sometimes do not give adequate consideration to the child’s inherent capacity to learn. Over-stimulation is detrimental for learning. So it’s a wrong theory to "teach as much as possible, so that something interests the child at least". Over-stimulation backfires by making the child hyperactive and disinterested in what is being taught to him. How much of teaching is alright depends entirely upon the child’s interest areas and capabilities. Not only quantity-wise, it is also important to respect your child learning interests quality-wise. While you may not understand the usefulness of things beyond academic syllabus, the child may not understand the usefulness of things in the syllabus. Not all children want to learn alphabets and counting when they are 3 years old, because they can’t see the usefulness of the information. Some are more interested in understanding about sun, moon and stars, while some get more excited to learn about animal kingdom. It is important to teach them in a way that they find interesting as well as useful.
This is the time and age of information and new knowledge bombarding at us from all sides. It shouldn’t create pressure on us. Knowledge is supposed to make life easy for us, and not burden us with the expectation to pass all of it to our kids. The pressure we feel to teach doesn’t go unnoticed by kids. Their antennas catch this pressure, making them stressed about this whole process of "learning".
Teaching shouldn’t make us anxious and learning shouldn’t make the kids anxious. Then only true learning takes place.
Written by Aanchal Agarwal, Aanchal is a psychotherapist and special educator and mother, based in Bangalore. She specializes in child development and learning disabilities.