Ten days after my toddler, the most enthusiastic kid in her playschool, joined ‘regular school’, and the initial ‘adventure’ feeling wore off, she asked me: “When will I get holidays?”. “You get two holidays every week”, I told her. “No,” she insisted. “Many, many holidays … hundred holidays!” “Why?” I asked. “Because I want to play … and play … and play … and be happy!” came the answer.
What I realized that day was despite our ‘playway methods’ of teaching, the very structuredness of learning systems cramps our children’s souls. The problem is, you can’t get away from the fact that consistent learning cannot happen without a certain extent of the structure. So, what do you do to get free souls like my kid excited about learning?
Well, you camouflage and disguise the structure in ways that excite them, so that before they know it, they are immersed in learning. Here are some useful ways—pick and choose the ones that work best for your kids!
1. Incentives: Rewards and Compliments
Ever wonder why video games are a universal addiction? It’s not just the audio-visual action that generates the excitement, though those are pretty important too. The fact is, most electronic games work on the well-known principle of incentives for each bit of good performance. And face it—we all work best towards incentives. So why not create incentive structures for kids to learn? Nothing elaborate—just their favourite dish, or a family outing to celebrate little successes. And the biggest incentive—warm appreciation, compliments, a hug, a high five—anything that makes the child feel cherished and appreciated!
2. Stories and Reading
How many kids do you know who don’t like stories? Haven’t you ever wondered why learning one page of studies is so tough for a kid who can remember 2 or 3-hour movies, sequence to sequence and word for word, after a single viewing? It’s the interest created by the storyline. Even electronic games, if you look closely, are actually stories in which they are playing an active role! Hence, stories are universal, especially if the kid has been in the habit of listening to them since early childhood. As she grows, storytelling can be graduated to story reading, to asking the kid to read the story to you. And before they know it, chances are, they are hooked to reading, which is one of the most valuable learning skills. If the child is reluctant, it is usually a matter of identifying and making available whatever interests her—it needn’t be popular fiction or ‘educational literature’ (ugh!)—it could well be comics, magazines, periodicals, or even DIY manuals! The point here is that a kid who reads easily will learn easily, and so, is less likely to resist learning.
3. Memory Games and Word Play
Mnemonics (remembering things by associating them with familiar objects) have long been the most enjoyable and effective aids to learning. When my 8 year old had to learn the capital of all the states of India, we spent an evening weaving one or two-line mnemonics around them. For instance, “when you go ‘up’ in the world, you are ‘lucky’ – and the capital if UP (up) is Lucknow (lucky)”. Or, “there are lots of ‘jharis’ (bushes) on a ranch—and the capital of Jharkhand (jharis) is Ranchi (ranch)”. Silly little word plays, but they stick in the kids’ minds because they use words and concepts the kid is familiar with. Anyway, she was the only one in class who knew all the state capitals the next day—and remembers them to this day, even years later! In fact, having caught on to the technique at an early age, she now uses it to memorize stuff in Chemistry, Biology, and even History! And I remember the Periodic Table and the Reactivity Series myself, even decades after I learnt them, thanks to the silly mnemonics we concocted around them in our friends’ circle. All in all, a child who learns tedious stuff this way has loads of fun learning and unleashes her creative potential at the same time!
Most human beings respond to music. Most kids certainly do, and this is one of the time-tested ‘playway’ methods recommended by Maria Montessori. However, the relevance of music in kids’ learning doesn’t have to stop at playschool. It’s not just days of the week, months of the year and the names of oceans and continents that can be strung into a song for easy learning. Lessons for older kids too, especially poems, are much simpler when set to popular tunes and hummed along. Additionally, music is akin to meditation and increases concentration. A child who listens regularly to music of his choice is not only a happier and more centered child, he is also a much faster learner.
5. Relevance To Real Life
Understanding and interest are the two crucial factors for easy and long-lasting learning. Anything that catches kids’ interest motivates them to understand it. And what they understand, they find easy to learn. Conversely, what they understand well, they get interested in, and find easy to learn—it works both ways. And one of the best ways to make someone understand something is to show them its relevance in their lives. How many times have you heard from your kid (and indeed, said yourself when you were a kid), “Oh! I’m never going to use this in real life!” And the standard reply, “You’ll understand when you are older” doesn’t really cut any ice with a kid. He wants to know why, and he wants to know it NOW. Here you’ll just have to exercise some ingenuity and relate the stuff he’s supposed to learn to real life situations. Just an example: Why fractions? Because they’ll be useful when you measure out stuff for your favourite cake…