Sarah turned 3. Her parents started preparing for her education. Enrolling Sarah to school, buying those little bags, pencils, scented erasers, lunch boxes with cartoons, uniforms made exciting parts of the venture. Her innocent queries about school never failed to amuse her parents. Though they tried to answer all her questions enthusiastically, the thought of staying away from mother for 2 or 3 long hours bothered her. Her little brain could no more hold the confusion and made its decision. Sarah clung to her mother and told her with tears in her eyes that she would not go to school ever! She would not leave her mother.
Sarah's parents had tough time consoling and convincing her before she went to school. Slowly, as she got familiar to the new environment, made friends and her decision of never going to school faded off.
Most of the parents face more or less similar experiences and the 'education' starts. Does education of a child really start with pre-school? Or later? Or much before?
Some theories believe that even a foetus learns in the womb. But as the foetal state is beyond our control from education point of view, let us focus on education soon after birth.
The word education is derived from educare which translates to "bring out", "bring forth what is within", or "bring out potential". Education is an act or experience that has a formative effect on the mind, character or physical ability of an individual. It is the process by which society hands down its accumulated knowledge, skills and values from one generation to another, by means of language, culture and actions.
Going by the meaning, education is all about bringing out the potentials of a child. Schools are the agencies which catalyze structured, uniform learning in a conducive surrounding to meet the requirement of bringing out the best of a student. Hence the curricula designed do not only include academics but also physical activities, moral education, team work, social interaction and correct way of expression. The difference between learning from other factors of society and school is that the skills of teachers are updated time to time according to the latest scientific development. Teachings of a community may include superstitions but school teaches against it in scientific manner.
Radically speaking, education has nothing to do with when schooling starts! Whether an individual goes to school or not, education never stops. Learning happens even to a person marooned on an island for life. Also, education is not the area confined only to humans. Even animals learn the ways of living and survival from their parents, mostly mothers.
Instinctively, we humans too start training our children to control life activities and in turn, life itself. Usually, the practical knowledge of bringing up children is traditionally given from one generation to the other. For example, how to make a baby burp after feeding, toilet training, training to walk are to name a few.
When it comes to teaching children, today's aware parent wants to know more about bringing up children. In fact, a person as a 'parent' is as old as the child, and learns parenting as the child grows.
Famous Swiss psychologist Piaget has made the job easier by defining the stages of cognitive development. He called the the age group 0 to 18-24 months 'sensory motor stage' because the children of this age learn the most through senses.
The second stage is called 'pre-operational stage' which includes children from age 18-24 months to 7years. There is significant language development. Brain develops the ability to store in the form of memory and applies further to imagination. Understanding of symbols like alphabets and numerals develop but logical thinking does not take shape.
Concrete Operational Stage 'is the third stage. Children of ages 7 to 11 fall under this category.
These children are in the pre-adolescent years and develop logical reasoning. Hypothecation and abstraction is still under development in this stage.
The last and the fourth stage is called the 'Formal Operational Stage' marked by adolescence to adulthood. Piaget classified children of age group 11 plus under this stage. Logical thinking, symbolizing abstract concepts as in arithmetic develops fully in this stage.
Further intellectual development in adults depends on the ability to learn new things , the acquired knowledge itself and the way the same is applied to day to day life situations.
However, these stages cannot be marked rigidly from one another. Though some variations can be observed- which should be regarded as individual differences- the pattern and sequence of development is always followed.
Today's school curricula find their foundation in this classification. The curriculum design, assigning syllabi has found some basis in the form of this theory along with some other important psychological theories. The material given to students is designed as per their cognitive stages. The facts that nursery rhymes are taught in playschool and patriotic songs enhancing national values are taught mostly after age 7 make perfect sense.
It is essential for a parent to be aware of these stages for many reasons. You know what to expect from your child. If the neighbour's 20 month old child is talking a few words more, than your 21 month old, there is no need to panic. The knowledge of the developmental stages helps a parent to be patient. It also helps parent identify if the child is developing above or below the stages and help can be sought in time. Again, as the boundaries of the stages are not rigid, patience is the key to cope.
Some parents want their child to learn more than what is prescribed in the academic syllabus. The child is then pushed to learn - mostly rote learn- contents of higher syllabi. Imagine a 30 month old expected to be mugging up long rhymes when s/he has barely learnt to talk. This way, the parent is not helping the child to learn anything. Moreover, it causes interference in the natural learning by observation and handling things. Because of the parents' constant nagging, the child's attention is diverted from natural to superficial rote learning.
The theory also helps parent treat their children as per the stage of cognitive development. No child in concrete or formal operational stages would like to be treated as a baby. They are the conceptualizers and decision makers.
Similarly, the theory provides logic to parents who will otherwise be irritated at the fact that their 6 years old does reason logically.
This article focuses on children before pre-school; the age group considered is 0 to 3; i.e. the complete sensory motor stage and early pre operational stage. This group is dominated by the characteristics of the former, i.e. the sensory motor stage.
These children are aware of what is immediately in front of them. Things out of sight go out of mind. They focus on physical interactions with their immediate environment. But they do identify things they see often. Children this age develop affinity to a particular soft toy. They are most comfortable with the way their parents hold, cuddle them.
They do not know how things react, they're constantly experimenting with activities such as shaking or throwing things, putting things in their mouths, and learning about the world through trial and error.
The expression is mostly through actions. Speech develops through this stage. Children usually follow repeated words, or small sentences coupled with gestures as instructions and try to repeat.
They communicate through few words and more actions. When they need something, they reach out to the object rather than asking for it. When acquired, the typical action is to put it in the mouth. They also tend to explore through actions like putting fingers in the electric sockets. The displeasures of life are expressed through typical cries. Their hunger cries are different from those when they are sleepy. They also learn to use cries as a weapons to have their way. For example, Ralph cries every time his mother goes to washroom.
The question is, what kind of education should this age children receive?
They surely should not be expected to learn letters and Math. So the syllabus for the sensory motor kids is disciplined training. Setting a routine sets the natural clock for the child. A rhythm is set with the nature where everything occurs in timely order. A child who is fed on time, has enough and timely sleep and is taken to toilet on time is usually a content child. It is obvious that the parents have to follow a disciplined routine, too!
Once this basic body rhythm is set, the next or almost simultaneous step is to make the child observe her/ his surroundings. Though they do not speak much, the brain is developing fast. It absorbs all the inputs of all sensory organs hungrily. The parent must keep in mind that the child is experiencing many things for the first time. All they can do is turn them into positive learning experiences and make them learn with each one of them.
2 years old Roy picked up his mother's knitting pin. She was anxious, scared and shouted at him, held his hand in a firm grasp and forcibly removed it from his hand. Then she showed it to him and warned "never touch this again, ok? Never!"
The whole episode left him shocked and unhappy.
It is often observed that the child of this stage comes across more negative instructions than the positive ones. For example, ' Don't touch that!' , 'don't lean down', ' Don't go there' .
The child then know what 'not to do'; but does not know 'what to do'. So s/he goes on exploring something new, which again faces parent's negative remark, many a times in a stern, unfriendly voice.
A few 'do's and supporting 'don'ts' are discussed here for parents.
Roy's situation can be handled differently. How? Simply by drawing attention to the desired experience! Find something else that the child might find more interesting. If it is not, 'make' it look interesting. Sound a plate and a spoon. Make her/his favorite toy dance. Animate a story with a soft toy. Give the child a positive alternative so that the attention is diverted. Then quietly take the undesirable object away from the child.
A child can be taught how to handle things carefully. A parent can train a child in how to handle, for example, a flower; by showing how to smell, showing how to touch it softly and carefully. After watching the parent, the child follows her/his actions. S/he learns that a flower is meant to be smelt, admired and handled carefully, softly. Such a child will seldom pluck and crush a flower. This way the child learns 'what do with a flower'.
This way of teaching makes children know 'what to do', and avoids confusion created with the series of instructions beginning with 'Don't'.
Usually, you need very few positive instructions to keep a child busy and happy; but you need to use endless negative instructions, which do no good to both, the child and the parent.
As mentioned earlier, 0 to 2 is not the age to start alphabets and arithmetic formally. But the sense of words and positive communication can be internalised by a child. Similarly, a child can be exposed to mathematical fields like spatial sense.
Activities like comparing shapes like those of a cushion and a pillow develops the sense of shape. Do not name the shapes just yet. They may only know the terms cushion and pillow. Different shapes should be given to handle like ball, pebbles, differently shaped plates, spoons and so on. Even if the child does not express verbally, the concept is internalised, which is very important in education. Placing smaller utensil into bigger ones, placing spoons of correct size in a container are some simple activities which develop concepts of space.
Parents are often amused by the fact that children ignore the toys designed for them and find other things like cutlery, cardboard packaging or empty shampoo bottles interesting. This is because of their urge to explore new things. If you find your child playing more with an empty bottle, rolling it on the floor and observing it, trying to open the lid and close it again, include it in your child's toys. It may be trash for you, but your little one is learning material-design shape-behaviour from it! Your job is to make sure that the object is clean and safe for your child!
The toys available in the market are marked with age and are researched well. However, giving a child with plenty of new toys at once should be refrained from. Too many new toys given at once become old, uninteresting and useless the very next day or at the most, next week! Give only one toy at a time. Let the child exploit it to make the fullest use. S/he develops some kind of affinity to the toy. Then introduce a new toy. After s/he has played with the new one for a few days, bring the old jigsaw puzzle as a change. Observe the surprise and happiness in your child's body language. This way, the child not only learns the most from the toys, but also learns to enjoy the affectionate bond. S/he has taken the first lessons of seeking happiness in a non-materialistic way! With the baby steps in visibly simple play activities, realize that your baby has taken a giant step in environmental education!
It is advisable to have peers in a child's environment. Children as young as 6 months respond chirpily at the sight of other children. They are probably out to prove that humans are social animals! Taking children to public parks in the vicinity and making them meet their peers caters to their social need. Even if a child has siblings at home, meeting other kids outside home readies them for the first day at pre-school!
Children till age 2 to 3 mostly refuse to share their toys or objects with other children. Nothing much can be done with this aspect. They are in the developmental stage in which there is no place for logic of sharing. In case you have a young visitor, keep some extra toys. In case you are visiting someone, carry your child's favorite toy, which does not look very attractive to others, just to reduce the chances of being snatched away. Even then, parents should keep talking to the child about sharing without forcing them to do so.
Children imbibe social skills, soft skills and life skills by observing their parents' behaviour. Though children till age 3 cannot be forced to say pleasantries, they learn by observing their parents' behaviour. So, parents must speak what they will be happy to hear from their child. Abuses, arguments are best avoided in front of children. Following some discipline norms on individual as well as on the family level helps children feel secure.
As in case of Ralph, who cries every time his mother goes to washroom, understand why he behaves so. He feels that his mother has disappeared behind the door. He feels that he has lost her. The insecurity prompts him to cry. He could be told beforehand that mother is not going to vanish if the door of the washroom is shut. Mother can open and shut the door in front of him to assure him that she has not disappeared. She can even keep calling him out from inside.
Sometimes children cry or through tantrums just to get what they want. It is often seen that a child asks for something. The parent initially refuses. The child prods. Parents keep saying 'no'. Then the child starts either crying throwing things around. The choice is between to put up with more antics by the child or give up on your side. If the scene is happening in a public place, the embarrassed parent gives in to the child's tantrums more quickly. This way, the child gets 'conditioned' that you get what you want when you cry or throw around things.
The correct response from a parent would be do not change your stance once you said 'no'. People around you may say, 'oh, it's just a candy! Don't make her/him cry for that'!
The reality is, it's actually not only about just a candy. It's about the child's conditioning. So, first be sure that when you are refusing something to the child, it's for appropriate reason and then stick to it.
Of course, you cannot leave the child crying like that! You can use the attention diverting strategy discussed earlier.
Sometimes children cry and misbehave just to seek the parents' attention. Parents must remember to give then a lot of attention. Give them a lot of importance and respect. A child feels neglected without it. Hug them often. They need that touch all the time. Remember, their way of expression is actions. Play a lot with them. Chat with them all the time. Give them as much time as you can. A child who feels secured within does not display unacceptable attention seeking behaviour.
The feeling of insecurity in this age gives rise to many mental, emotional and social problems later in life.
A parent must be vigilant for the child's health. Healthy habits can only be practiced through actions. The sensory motor children instinctively put things in mouth. Parent has to be alert all the time to guard the child against putting undesired things in mouth. S/he needs to be guarded against accidents like falling down or sticking bean seeds up the nose! Parents should not lose their temper in such cases. They should bear in mind that the child of this age does not understand consequences. So again patience is the key.
Above all, no one can know your child better than you do! This discussion is just to help know the age group as a whole and educate your child before pre-school! Happy prenting!