Creating Environment Instead of Teaching

Children are curious. They want to figure things out by themselves. They want to understand the world they live in. This is a very basic human nature or rather human brain's nature. To get a strong evidence of this fact, we just have to watch babies and pay serious attention to what they do. Their brain is continuously picking up information, matching patterns, sorting and storing it for later use. This is how they learn, without any conscious effort on our part, such complicated skills like walking and talking. Can anyone ever think of "teaching" kids these skills? How absurd does it sound!! Yes, why bother at all when kids can pick up these skills all by themselves.

But when it comes to skills like reading, writing, arithmetic, we don't show the same confidence and trust in children. We are anxious to start TEACHING. We have this very strong notion in our head that if we don't TEACH them (reading, writing, maths, etc.), they won't ever learn. What's worse, we think that they should learn in exactly the same way we are telling them, otherwise they can never learn. We do not give them enough space to learn by themselves or in their own way. This deep rooted mistrust in a child's innate ability to learn is probably the biggest crime we are doing against them.

As soon as they reach the age of 2 or 3 years, we make them sit at one place, for hours sometimes, give them some bits and pieces of meaningless information and ask them to learn it by heart. We make it worse by testing them continually and rewarding when they perform good and punishing when they don't. No wonder kids resist this kind of imposed teaching. And the more they resist, the more we become anxious and more we tighten the reins. This way the learning soon becomes a burden.

The result of such kind of TEACHING is evident everywhere. The same kid who was born curious, patient, determined, energetic, resourceful and a skilful learner turns into a lazy, spiritless, bored from everything kind of kid. He seldom takes initiatives. He rarely thinks creative. He turns to adults for - "Tell me what to do now", "I am bored", . In short, "he comes to feel that learning is a passive process, something that someone else does to you, instead of something you do for yourself". John Holt has written all about the dangers of such kind of TEACHING in his books - 'How Children Fail' and 'The Under-Achieving School'. Another useful thread in this connection is an article written by Peter Gray, How Early Academic Training Retards Intellectual Development

Something has gone seriously wrong somewhere in our notion of teaching. Otherwise how is it that some skills are learnt by kids universally without any teaching while others, with teaching, give mixed results and varied side effects. To understand this, we need to understand the concept of "Environment". For a skill like walking, there is a very rich environment present around the kids all the time. They see everyone around them walking. At first it doesn't make any sense to them but after some time they figure out that walking has a very important purpose - it is a fast and efficient way to reach from one place to another. With that purpose in mind they are ready to learn. They begin to take their first steps, first with a support and later without it. In the process they fall thousand times but they don't stop.

Same goes with talking. Again the environment necessary for this skill is very rich. Their ears are immersed in language whole day. They easily guess out the importance and purpose of talking. They solve the mystery of language by exploring, by experimenting, by developing their own model of the grammar of language, by meeting words over and over again, in different contexts, until they get stamped in the brain permanently, by trying it out and seeing whether it works, by gradually changing it and refining it until it does work.

So we see the environment is the biggest teacher. The best and most we can do for our kids to learn something, is to create a rich and suitable environment where they can see for themselves, in as much time as they need, the importance and purpose of that skill. How to create this environment for reading? We will see in the next post.

Category: parenting