Thursday, July 13, 2006

Science Fairs and Children

Leonardo-da-vinci, Newton, Marconi, Thomas Edison, the Wright brothers - they were all giants of scientific invention. They all came from different backgrounds. But they all had one thing in common. Happy or sad, rich or poor, they were all inquisitive kids.

Children always need an environment where there is much encouragement for them to pursue intellectual interests to investigate whatever aroused curiosity. Children need this kind of supportive climate very much. Then the children come up with new and interesting ideas. Conducting science fairs can be an excellent motivating force for kids. They also provide a wonderful opportunity for discovering and encouraging science talent. Children share their science projects with other pupils and with the community. It also helps youngsters utilize their time in a constructive way.

The fair should enable youngsters in trying to find out something they did not know before. Parents can help their kids by taking an active role in their exploration. It can be anything from sharing books to visiting web sites.

In lower classes, say up to class 4 or 5, don't be too rigid about the scientific method. Let it be ‘fun’ for them. Let them enjoy the activity heartily. As they reach the middle and high school grade, there can be emphasis on reasoning. Too much of insistence on scientific methods should not take away the fun. A boy who makes a motor out of wire, nails and battery cells would have gained a lot. Besides the value addition, the child will feel recognized as parents and peers praise him for the good job done.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Does your child's school provide for co-curricular activities ?

I see lots of parents who do not let their child play cricket or join scouting for the mere reason that their child may not do well in studies. For them any extracurricular activity is a distraction from studies.

Mr. Krishnan, an officer in a commercial bank told me, ''I want my kid to do well in English and Maths right from now. Only then would he do well as he comes to higher classes. See, the foundation needs to be very strong" referring to his only son studying in first standard. I pitied him. It took me a long session to convince him and somehow convince him.

When I took over as principal of a school, I took a firm decision to pave way for the all round development of the kids. Hence I introduced dance, instrumental music, wood craft, scouts and guides and many other activities suitable to the different age groups. Weekend co-curricular activities got added to the schools syllabi and I spoke to my teachers to conduct quizzes at the class level too. Children who were interested in gardening were provided a patch of land at the back of the school to grow vegetables.

One of the school committee members told me "I see children picking up co-curricular activities very well. But it should happen in study areas" I coolly told him, "It will happen. There will be a change" . Once children began partaking in the mainstream by joining activities, there was a sea change. Children began picking up well in studies too.

It is only when you provide for various activities, that children will be able to explore their individual strengths and weaknesses. Scouts and guides, social work, sports, for example build character and help develop important skills.

Skits, drama and dance - all these tend to be fun for kids. They enjoy putting up colourful dresses and playing different roles on the stage. They gained confidence and all the skills they pick up are transferable.

Today, educationists term extra curricular activities as co-curricular activities. They help in imbibing the very characteristics that are needed for success in classroom and in life. Each one of us has been bestowed with special abilities, but we have to explore them. Co-curricular activities are a wonderful programme in that direction.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Kids Love Practical Experiences

As parents, try to find adequate time for your kids and provide them with first hand experiences. Certain experiences can be taken for granted depending on the community where you live. For example, children with a rural background will have a fairly good knowledge of seeds being planted and fertilizers spread. Never assume that your kids will get access to all sorts of life experiences in school. Even if the school is a good one and provides vicarious experiences, your approach will certainly will still stand out unique.

Look at the following few experiences:
  1. Visit to a farm house.
  2. Visit to a nursery.
  3. Observing sparrows building nests, laying eggs and rearing their young ones.
  4. Visit to a printing press or a garage.
  5. Visit to a health clinic or a hospital.
  6. Visit to a plastic industry.
  7. Visit to an old age home or an orphanage.
  8. Visit to a recycling unit.
  9. Visit to a sericulture or a pisciculture plant.
  10. Visit to a museum or a zoo.
  11. Visit to a doll house or a studio.
  12. Visit to a building construction site.
Never play down the importance of such visits while conversing with kids. Even if you are well versed, show a lot of interest in the activities there. Unless you show interest, how can the kids get enthused? Kids will definitely shoot dozens of questions, once he gets engrossed with the subject. Once you are in a site, discuss the situation, raise doubts, answer questions, compare things, appreciate good work done there and yes, at the end of it you will have contributed a lot to kid development.

I have seen some parents who think that their kids are too young to catch up. But, that is not a fact. Kids too can understand and appreciate. They are curious enough to know new things. Even your daily visits to your friend's place or market or doctor will have new experiences in store for your kids to see and understand.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Child Education - Mahatma Gandhi's Views & Vision

For Gandhiji, a great philosopher and freedom fighter who led Indian freedom struggle, education meant, "The drawing out of the best in child and man - body, mind and spirit." For him literacy was no education. He wanted the child to be treated as a whole and imparted knowledge to. He emphasized the development of head, heart and hands. For him, education had its essence in practical work. He thought that the end of all education must be the building of character. Education should bring about the purity of heart.

He hated the kind of education wherein the child's mind is stuffed with all kinds of information without even stimulating or developing him. Thus education is that which draws out and stimulates the spiritual, intellectual and physical faculties of the children.

Gandhiji was a great teacher himself. He wanted teachers to be well trained, proficient men and women of knowledge, faith and enthusiasm. They must be people of character.

Gandhiji wanted to establish a classless, casteless society based on the principles of truth and non-violence. He advocated the introduction of craft in schools for creative self expression, practical work and learning by doing. He wanted children to develop a scientific look. He believed that every child is good by nature. Hence he insisted that the education provided needs to be psychologically sound.

Gandhiji interpreted education as the development of human personality. This outlook goes well with any modern concept of education.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Do you Narrate Stories to your Kids?

Yes, make it a habit to narrate stories to your children everyday. The best time slot is one after dinner. Stories stimulate thought processes in your children. They enable children develop their listening ability. Besides they enable children turn communicative. Children listen to stories and appreciate the good actions of the characters there in. The stories format the values and imbibe discipline in children. You may not be able to see immediate returns but they will make a long term impact on the character of children.

I always relished the bed time ritual of my grandpa who used to narrate beautiful stories every day sitting in the veranda of our house in his easy chair. These stories used to wrap up each day with a wonderful sense of well being. Sometimes he used to narrate his own life experiences and at other times stories from great epics Ramayana and Mahabharata or from treasury of stories that are the Bhagavata and the Panchatantra.

The style of his narration, I still remember, used to be naive. He used to bring in new words and use them in right context. He used to speak for different characters and the lucid interesting conversation used to keep us live on our toes.

In summer, we used to sit in the yard after dinner. We had no electricity in those days and it used to be dark. We used to carry our chairs and arrange them in a semicircle. He never used to scare us, and we never dreaded darkness. At times, whenever there was an interval we used to throw our heads back and wonder at the innumerable number of stars in the sky.

My grandpa used to render a touch of philosophy too as the stories unfurled, most of which were reflections from his own life. I always used to wonder at his ability to tell great stories. Clad in a simple dhoti and jubba, he was as simple as the messages in his stories.

Providing enough story books is one thing, but bringing alive the stories in them via narration totally transports the children to another magical world where there imagination runs free and enhances their thinking abilities.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

'Sciencing' with kids

As parents, let us not forget that science thrives on experiments and activities. Science is the how and why of things.

Young children should have scope for innumerable activites. Adults should never have the temptation to give out all the information before its pertinence ever occurs to children.

Science ought to be fun, adventure. Once while I was teaching in highschool, we had an opportunity to put up science exhibits for the All India children's Exhibition organised by National Council for Education Research and Training, New Delhi. I selected a few students to work on the project and they had to stay back after the school hours. One of the students who was scoring well in exams said "I do like to stay and work, Sir, but my mother doesn't want me to join. I am supposed to get a rank in the Tenth Standard Examination". This parent never understood the true nature of Science and how her kid's study should progress. She wanted her kid to be a bookworm, a walking encyclopaedia. She never wanted her child to have any fun.

Let us understand well that science is better learnt through activities, experiences, experiments and projects.

Children's experiences need to be real, concrete and tangiable. We should never get carried away by just contents and facts. Link experiences to children's life. Then they will feel a desire to know.

Remember, these young children will control the world tomorrow. Then they need to develop a better understanding of natural and physical phenomena. There is great drive on the part of children to know and get answers.We need to nurture the ability of kids to ask questions and seek answers.

I have seen kids expressing, "I have lots of questions, but our teacher asks us to keep shut!" Encourage children to ask questions. Keep yourselves cool, patient and discuss with them. Time spent on answering children's questions is in no way a waste of time.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Attitudes, Values and Strategy

I see lots of children not performing well. Many parents feel that it is the heredity or the genes children inherit that count. When I underwent teachers' training in the seventies, my psychology professor did say,
"Talent without training is ability lost,
Training without talent is labour lost"
I remember, we debated on this issue over days. Ultimately we concluded that both heredity and environment are important in the making of a kid.

But my experiences as a teacher have proved it the other way. Genes do count in deciding the performance but they are not everything.

Today, I tell in parents' meetings, "Help your kid develop right mental make up, right values and right strategy". How can it happen? Do we have some simple means? The answer is in the affirmative. To put the strategy in a nutshell,
  1. Praise, support and encourage your kid. Keep warm relations. Inspire your kid and build up self-esteem.
  2. Teach your kid, don't blame. Negative approaches always fail.
  3. Keep assessing your child's strengths and provide varied opportunities.
  4. Teach your kid techniques of relaxation, concentration and performing with greater efficiency.
  5. Remind your child of success and steps to it.

Never goad your child with bribes, guilt, fear of failure, unhealthy competitive spirit, revenge or shortcuts.