Right age to start education

We are living in a fast paced world. Gone are the days when a fresh graduate started his career as an apprentice, worked his way up the ladder, saved money to buy a car, then his dream home, etc. Now fresh graduates start work with fancy salaries, take up certifications / jump jobs to move up the ladder, buy a car and house using bank loans and pay back the loan for the most part of his life.

This style of moving ahead quickly has trickled down every where, even to raising children and educating them.

Fast paced early starters:

New born kids are encouraged to reach development milestones earlier than expected. A B C D flash cards are brought for one year old children. The recommended age to start would be 3 years.

Kids are sent to (pre) schools as early as 2 years. At 2 years, kids do not have ability to understand happenings at school or outside.

So, are early starters better achievers than other kids? Yes.., and No. Results of this early start varies from child to child. It helps children learn alphabets and numbers one or two years earlier.., but affect their over all development in the long run.

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Consider an ideal setting:

Imagine a slower and normal lifestyle. New born kids should be cherished and treated as “new born” children till their first birthday. The new mother deserves relaxed life for a year to recuperate from child birth and get her hormones to work properly while feeding her new born.

From the age of 1 to 5 years, focus on physical development of the child is essential. A stable caretaker (parent) is needed for every child. Rolling over, crawling, sitting, standing and walking antics enjoyed by the whole family.

Early years:

One to five years is a crucial time for the child to explore and understand the world. This is the age when they learn about men and women, family, social structures, feelings, owning and sharing things, animals, life, nature etc. Neuro sciences say that every new experience in this early age develops the child’s brain.

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This experience can be given only through a daily life with ample opportunity to explore the society. A closed class room,cute and colourful, is not the perfect place for early social understanding.

 

6 years and above:

Around 6 years of age, every child has the natural instinct to understand numbers and written language. A 6 year old’s brain is bigger and more capable. Physical co-ordination between the brain and other body parts is well developed. The child can now draw, write, read and count with confidence. Irrespective of schools and teaching methodology, he has the physical and mental strength to understand and absorb the knowledge he needs.

Early starter vs Normal starter:

Imagine a 3 year old being taught to write alphabets in pre school. His brain is busy exploring feelings and owning things. He cannot understand why alphabets and languages exist. His hands are not fully developed to handle a pencil and write letters.

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To overcome these difficulties and get him started early, we devise creative methods of teaching like alphabet songs, cartoons, teaching tools, flash cards etc. There are also schools that give assignments of writing an alphabet multiple times to fill pages.

The child will master alphabets early in pre school. But, the time and energy spent in mastering letters should not compromise his effort to understand the social world around and develop psychologically.

A child learning the same alphabets around 5 – 6 years of age will find it easier and more interesting. He can remember alphabets quickly. Identify the learnt alphabets while looking at his story books, mobile games and cartoon names. His hands would find it easier to write letters as they have better co-ordination with the brain.

Less time and energy spent in learning the same alphabets when taught at the right age. The late (err… normal) starter has the added advantage that he had spent enough time exploring and understanding the world at 3 years of age.

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Early class room education is not needed. It does not guarantee a successful future. Good exposure to family and social life in the early years is important. It gives children a fair chance at becoming balanced and sensible adults.

Academic enrollment should not be at the expense of physical and mental development. It is important that children build a good attitude at the right age. They should start their education as self learners.

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Home Schooling… at 3 years

Home schooling has always been in our mind. But we did not think about it seriously till a few months back. As our little daughter’s third birthday was nearing, we were bombarded with questions about her schooling. Relatives and friends were in the habit of asking if she has started school yet. Friends and cousins were always eager to engage us in a discussion on the best schools in our locality.

We were reluctant to send her away to school. Our own experiences at school were mixed. There have been many happy years, and many more stressful years. Did we want her to go through a similar journey? No… we wanted her to experience life and enjoy it. A closed school room, generic curriculum or exams did not seem to agree with this.

So, we started exploring un-schooling. A month after her third birthday, we were at cross roads. We had to talk or meet someone who had experienced un-schooling. Without this step, we could not convince ourselves on the un-schooling approach. After a day of extensive online searching, we contacted Ms. Urmila Samson. A 10 minute conversation with her enforced every urge we had to take the un-schooling path.

Unschooling

Unschooling

Since then, we have not taught her anything. She has recently started asking questions. Her questions revolve around people, feelings, and nature. Apart from answering her questions, we make up random stories about animals and birds. 1 or 2 stories have become regular bedtime features. She also enjoys cartoon shows on TV, and animated songs on the net. In addition to fluent Tamil, cartoons and rhymes kindle her interest in learning English words. Of late, she has started framing short English sentences like “What do you want?”, “Where are you going?”,…

We got her a small computer toy when she was 2 years old. One of her favourite games is alphabet identification. She has picked up all English alphabets through this game. The Spelling game is still beyond her understanding, though I see her give it a try often.

She is familiar with colours, shapes, numbers, birds and animals. I guess she picked them up through interactions in daily life. Learning these are bound to happen for every child naturally. More interesting is the way she interprets feelings, relations, social interactions, etc. She often asks me why I talk in a particular manner when I sound angry or pre-occupied. She tries to mimic my voice and feelings… And this has made me become more conscious of my own feelings and how I express them. She talks to our pet dogs now. I also see her making efforts to communicate her thoughts clearly.

She has many questions for her dad everyday… The last two days, I have heard them talk about the world and cities during bath time. As we were going over the birds encyclopedia today, she pointed to the world map and asked where Hyderabad was. It started off a series of questions around why the world illustration could not clearly show all cities.

I know we are making baby steps in the path of natural education and un-schooling. But regardless of what name we give it, we are enjoying every moment of this.

Montessori Schools

Montessori schools are fast spreading throughout India. If you are the parent of a toddler searching for play schools for your child, you would have seen Montessori schools in your neighbourhood. For those who are wondering what Montessori schools are all about, this post is for you! Read on to know more…

Montessori is a different approach to education. Montessori schools have no normal classrooms with teachers teaching children. Instead, they have classrooms where teaching aids are placed all around. Children are free to explore these teaching aids as they wish. These classrooms are similar to a home where children’s toys are spread around, and the child picks a toy as she pleases. The only difference is Montessori has specialised toys that help the child explore, observe and understand.

If children are free to do what they want.., and learn by themselves, what is the role of teachers in Montessori play schools?
Teachers are observers and guides. They monitor and observe every child’s progress. they help and guide children with their activities when the need arises. In Montessori play schools, teachers introduce different kinds of activities to children, and then let the child take it up as per his will.

Child in a Montessori school

Montessori classrooms group children based on their age. Unlike traditional schools, montessori schools follow a mix of ages. For example, children from age group of 3 to 6 can be grouped together. This is because, children in age group 3 to 6 have similar development milestones. Schools or Classrooms for children of this age group focus on activities like spooning, pouring to exploring textures, shapes to basic maths, language, music and art materials.

Montessori materials in a classroom

Montessori materials

Children’s physical, mental and intellectual abilities grow in stages. Starting from birth to adolscent years, this growth happens in stages. These stages are commonly referred to as development milestones. Montessori teaching aids are designed based on these stages of development. For three year olds, their normal development milestones would be muscular co-ordination, speaking and sentence formation, Identifing clours, textures and shapes, first stage of counting, etc. Thus, teaching aids for montessori play schools focus on activities like spooning,pouring, stacking cups, staircase rods, color cards, texture cards, rhythm, beats, drawing and colouring.

Advantages of Montessori education when compared with traditional education is: Montessori encourages children to continue their exploration and creativity at school. It allows children to be free and learn at their pace. No peer pressure or schedules. It thrives by encouraging every child’s in-born urge to explore, discover and create.

How did Montessori system come into practise?

This method of education was first practised by an Italian physcian and educator named Maria Montessori. She started developing her education methods in  1897. She opened the first Montessori class room in Rome in 1907. It spread gradually, and finally reached the US in 1960 where it gained popularity. Thousands of schools in the US have adopted the Montessori methods of education. Since then, Montessori has spread to almost all countries and is widely seen throughout the world as a unique approach to eduction.India Montessori

India was one of the early countries to adopt the Montessori method of education starting from 1939. Maria Montessori lived in India for a brief time with her son. During this time, she opened Montessori centres in Madras, Pune, Ahmedabad and Karachi. There are several legendary training institues in India that impart training on Montessori education. Montessori schools in India employ teachers trained in these prestigious institutions.

If you are interested in becoming a Montessori trained educationist, please check out India Montessori Centre  and Indian Institue for Montessori Studies .

If you are a parent interested in Montessori education for your children, pay a visit to the nearest Montessori school. Montessori schools allow interested people to sit in as observers in their class rooms.

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Image sources: The Growing Concern School, Montessori Tides School, The International Montessori Council.

Good pre schools for toddlers

Forty years back, the correct age for sending children to school was five years. Twenty years ago, three years was the correct age. Now, children as young as two years start attending pre-schools and play schools. How does this influence a child’s growth?

At the completion of two years, children can gradually observe and understand how the world works.  Every child has his own way of observing and exploring the world. Some children are fast at understanding, while some take a longer time. However, these are best learnt by silent observation at the child’s own pace.

Child learning from water

Increasingly, children start preschool between two and three years. . The reason for this is the academic competition prevalent in India, nuclear families with working parents, and the social pressure to do what every one else does. In this context, here is an analysis on what kind of play schools are out there. How do they affect child development? Here are a few thoughts….

Routines and Schedules:

Not all two / three year old kids can adapt a routine. For active and curious kids, a routine may end up frustrating. If your kid does not show interest in adapting to a scheduled life style, skip preschools that emphasize on getting kids follow a routine.

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Competitions:

Many schools hold races, fancy dress, oratory competitions as a means of entertaining parents and children. Think twice while choosing a school that holds many competitions. The concept of memorizing, winning, etc might be over whelming and unnecessary at three years of age.

Open play spaces:

Toddlers need to experience a lot of textures, sounds, shapes, etc. This is best done by letting them play outdoors. The variety of colours, sounds, shapes, objects that nature provides are the best teaching and growth aids for children. Preschools that offer safe open spaces are a definite advantage to your child’s growth.

nature playground

Image source: http://www.naturegrounds.org/

Food:

Some preschools and international schools provide snacks and food. If opting for schools that provide food, due attention is needed for the menu and food. Ensure the menu provides a multi-grain nutritious food. It is best to go in for schools that offer specialty cooked food rather than outsourced food cooked in huge quantities.

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Hygiene:

Not all toddlers are properly potty trained by the age of two or three years. ISome school that looks down on toddlers who cannot wash themselves. Some schools even call up parents to complain or scold kids who are not potty trained.  This have a negative impact on your child’s psychological growth. In addition, your kid will have an awful day at school if she has to spend 4 or 6 hours smelling bad in soiled clothes. It will be a good decision to avoid such schools.   Give preference to schools that have motherly care takers who can wash and tend to your kids.

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Montessori Preschools:

Montessori preschools offer kids a variety of learning tools and play things. The child is free to select the activity that she is interested in. Montessori preschools let the child discover her own observations. They do not involve direct teaching or instructor led teaching. Montessori schools are a good option for parents who give more priority to their child’s overall development (psychological, behavioral, social, etc) over academic development.

Montessori-Knobless-Cylinders

Waldorf Preschools:

Waldorf education model for preschools offers group activities, home like environment, focus on extra curricular activities like coloring, reciting, playing with building blocks, modelling clay, etc. Waldorf system is widely believed to be suitable for children who like rhythmic repetition, and order.

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Religious Preschools:

There are a whole range of schools affiliated to various religions and spiritual trusts. These schools offer the usual classroom education, along with teaching aids and curriculum influenced by the teachings of a particular religion or spiritual guru.

A few of these institutions focus on discipline. Strict schedules, punishments, verbal admonishes are things to be aware of when selecting schools that focus on making the child learn discipline. Select religious schools that nurture the child’s innocence and teach them values in a child friendly manner.

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Instead of exploring and understanding the world, many two year old children spend time in closed classrooms,  eat out of snack boxes, memorize rhymes and action songs,  have teachers teaching them, etc.  When this happens, we need to ensure these class rooms help in the child’s overall development.

A healthy body and happy mind are essential for a good childhood.  Let us ensure every child has access to a healthy, free and happy childhood.