Right from the day a child is born his learning cycle starts. A few activities of a new born baby such as sucking milk from his mother and clearing his bowels are innately biological and he does not have to learn them. But learning begins with hearing a few words that his mother and sometimes his father or older siblings speak, which gradually helps the child to understand what they mean. Words describing various items in the home, or a pet dog or the sky, sun or moon slowly begin to make sense to a three year old kid and add to his vocabulary and reinforce his wonder about his surroundings.
Not only words but small activities such as sitting on a chair to begin eating are stressed. Going out for a walk or caressing the pet or playing with toys, are activities acquired by the child by listening or emulating what his mother or siblings may be doing. The child likes movement — it is ingrained in his body and so it is difficult for the child to just sit quietly. If well-fed, he jumps around and occasionally breaks some objects around him. This activity is usually discouraged by the parents for obvious reasons.
The age of three years is the right time for parents to help the child with numbers — one, two or many. This numerical ability is occasionally taught by saying we have one nose, two eyes, two ears, two legs and two feet. But the number of fingers is not two but five. Concept of many is a little difficult but several birds that may be entering one’s home or flying around are helpful for the child to appreciate this concept. The ideas of colour or size of a bird or a pet are also slowly caught on as a child grows in age, understanding and vocabulary.
Maria Montessori (1870-1952) was an Italian physician and educator who promoted a system of learning keeping in mind the environment of a child and some toys that are easily available in homes. It is a hands-on learning that is promoted by parents or grandparents of the child. However some people feel that it results in isolation of a child and it also keeps the parents too much occupied at the expense of their other duties.
A formal system of education for children of age three to five is the Nursery system or pre-primary system that generally has a fixed curriculum. This is inclusive of numbers, colours, writing, singing, doing simple exercises and varied skills for the development — both physical and mental, of children. Writing ability either of letters or numbers is slowly learnt by these four or five year olds. Even holding a pen or a pencil is often difficult for a four year old. Experiments on children have demonstrated that drawing straight lines is easier than drawing circles or an oval. Hence a number like 1 can be easily written but writing the number 8 or 9 is difficult. Drawing with coloured pencils also confirms this ability.
Singing together various common songs or a country’s national anthem is also part of the curriculum and so do simple physical exercises and sports. Occasionally, offering small prizes promote sports and physical exercises. I remember my mother who was a primary school teacher, singing to small children songs about birds or fish or tigers. One song that was sung in Hindi went as given in its translation below:
A fish is the queen of the pond she is in
Her life is due to the water she swims in
Take her out and we know what happens
So let her swim and enjoy her swimming…
After the Nursery or pre-primary stage of schooling, children move on to formal schools with class one, two up to five in the primary stage and then secondary and senior secondary stages, etc.
However, the learning ladder has already been laid for schooling and education. Let us concentrate on building a solid wholesome ladder for the child and the society.