Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Way We Learn

I have been getting loads of advice on how to bring up my baby.  Several women tell me how I must make him interact with more people, not keep him confined to the house, keep talking to him, to develop his social skills and get him ready for school (he's only seven months old and cannot talk yet!).  I try and explain that he has a kind of routine that keeps him satisfied, but people don't really listen.  They mean well but I think they feel that what's good for one baby (rather their approach to babies) is good for all.

Though not directly related to this subject, somehow this incessant stream of conversation got me thinking about the ways in which different people learn.  I am solitary by nature and learn best on my own.  I like activities which allow me to function creatively in solitude and peace.  However, I know many people who feel comfortable learning and tackling problems in groups or pairs.  So I'm sure there are parents who like to mingle with others and take their children along, to socialize or play with other adults or children and perhaps later, organize other activities of common interest.

At this stage I find there is so much to do at home that the only times I step out are for walks.  I am never really sitting (I wonder how that phrase arose) except when I need to.  And I doubt that my baby feels confined; he seems busy every moment trying to work things out for himself until he tires himself out and falls asleep.  Each activity, though apparently simple, poses many challenges for a little baby.  And then there are different levels of exploring the same thing.  One can look at the same problem or situation from different angles or with variable depth and come up with multiple solutions or courses of action.

For example, some weeks ago, my baby began to look at the curtains in the house.  Each set looked and felt different.  Then he realized they could be drawn out, some were easy to do and some were harder.  They also tasted different!  And now he can wrap them around himself, hang upside down from them like a trapeze artist and make them swish around.  Very different from the calendar, which he has also felt and tasted and moved around.  The calendar swings back and forth like a pendulum, it cannot be bent or wrapped around him, and so on.  He does not seem to need any adult intervention while carrying out these activities (other than being held and kept in a secure position).

Each day brings a different perspective to (the same old) things, which is a delight to watch and participate in.  I feel that the best way to channelize my baby's energy is by letting him select what he is interested in and allowing him to proceed the way he wants.  This seems to keep him engrossed and learning; he looks happy and contented at the end of it.  I don't think that simulating future situations (like school or social settings) at this stage will really help in any way.  As long as he's secure and comfortable doing what he's ready for, I think he will be able to tackle any new situation that comes his way.

Quite by chance I began to read 'The Discovery Of The Child' (by Maria Montessori) around this time.  I was intrigued to read about her methods and her insights into how children learn, and how they can be directed to activities and concepts, which they spontaneously and joyously pick up and use.  One aspect which is apparent from her work is how we must not view or judge children from an adult standpoint.  They have different priorities and views of the world from us, and these keep changing as they grow.  I quote from her book:

"Children frequently reveal remarkable powers of observation, noticing things which they had not previously noticed before.  They also seem to compare present objects with those they remember from past experiences.  Their striking judgments show that children have within themselves a kind of touchstone which we ourselves do not possess.  They compare external things with their mental fantasms and show a surprising accuracy in judgment.  Once a workman came into a classroom in Barcelona carrying in his hand a piece of glass which he was going to put into a window in the room.  A five-year-old child said in a loud voice: "You can't use that piece of glass; it's too small."  Only when the workman tried to fit the glass into the frame did he notice that it was about one fourth of an inch too short.
  Two children of five and six were carrying on the following conversation in a Children's House in Berlin: "Do you think the ceiling is ten feet high?"  "No," the other replied, "it is about ten feet nine inches high."  When the height was measured it was found in fact to be somewhat over ten feet.
  A little five-year-old girl, seeing a lady coming into the room said to her: "The color of your dress is just like that of the flower over there."  The lady went into the next room, where she found a flower, which could not be seen from the room she had first entered, and, comparing the flower with her dress, she found that the two colors were surprisingly alike.
  Children have within themselves a touchstone which sets them on a different plane from our own and enables them to do many striking things.  The reason for this seems to be that certain periods of life seem more suited for certain psychic operations than others.  A proof of this may be found in the ability of little children to remember and reproduce the sounds of spoken words.
  Nature has placed an extraordinary sensitivity in a child for fixing words and accents and it is precisely during the period of childhood that a person's language is fixed for life.  There is no going back: what a child's mind assimilates during the sensitive period remains as a permanent acquisition for his whole life, and it can  never be acquired  at another stage.  Thus there are periods in childhood for gaining sense impressions and fixing habits which, if they are neglected, can never be redeemed."

"We have clearly shown that a child has a need to observe, to reflect, to learn, to concentrate, to isolate himself and also from time to time to suspend his activities in silence...  The education of even a very small child, therefore, does not aim at preparing him for school but for life."
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