Friday, January 11, 2013

Learning to read and write

Last week, a curious mother came up to me to find out about my homeschooling experiences with Isha. Here is one part of the conversation that we had.

She: I am worried that my 6-year old daughter who is in the first standard is not showing great interest in learning to write Hindi, while some other children her age are taking to it much faster.

Me: How is her interest in English?

She: She has no problem with English.

Me: Do you or your husband, or anyone else in the family, pick up books in Hindi and read?

She: No, never!

Me: She is learning English because she sees everyone around her be able to access more information about things - bus numbers, stories, neighbourhood store names, etc. and is naturally curious to pick up that skill and offers least resistance to learning it. But she seems to have no context or need for Hindi right now, and I am glad that she is resisting learning it. She is subtly rebelling against the idea of learning something to please authority. So, instead of being worried about this, I'd be happy that her relationship with learning is healthy.


Since three-and-half is the age that regular schools get children started off with writing, I often get asked this question "So, have you started teaching Isha A-B-C-D?" Neither Rajeev nor I sit down to teach Isha anything at all; meaning we don't decide for her what she needs to learn. We are simply available to her as and when she feels the need to learn something. And she is usually full of either questions or her own stories about things.

Since the age of two, Isha has been curious about the letters of the alphabet. Because of my idea that letters and words should not be introduced to children that early in life, I used to do all I could to distract her everytime she'd point at 'A' and ask 'What is that?' Then, I stopped doing that and started going with what she wanted. She became very curious about the different letters, and I would simply identify them for her. 'A', 'X', 'E', 'I', 'O', 'M', 'S' were her first ones. Then she slowly picked up the others. Remember, we never once sat with her to 'teach' her anything! This learning happened mostly from bill-boards on the roads or books we would read stories to her from. We had some handed-down ABCD magnets that she used on the fridge for a long time. Sometimes, she'd herself ask me to test her. 'Tell me a letter and I will pick it up for you.' If she didn't know, I had to give her a clue like 'It is in green' and make the clues more complex as it went. 'It looks like a swing.' and so on until she found it out herself. There is such immense joy in finding out for oneself, and most 'education opportunities' today don't let you do that. In fact, they almost always rob you of your own joy of discovery.

One day, Isha started writing without any prompting, letters which were easy. 'X' 'O' 'E' 'Q' and 'A' were the first ones. 'E' would sometimes have 4 or 5 lines going across. 'G' and "S' were almost always inverted. Sometimes her letters would transform into objects. Like 'Q' would become a 'Sun'. We'd never correct them during those initial days of discovery. They were perfectly fine in her world of wonder! What was most important to us was that she was expressing with joy and not fear; that she was falling in love with those letters. She corrected herself along the way.

Even though she knows to read all the letters and numbers and can write a few, we have no idea when she'd start reading or writing words and sentences. It could be tomorrow, or it could be a few years later. And we have no worries about it even if she doesn't take to it for a long time. In fact, there are far more important and exciting things to be explored with the senses than reading and writing. When and how she begins to is not for us to decide and dictate. It is for us to only watch unfold with amazement.


Bhuvana Murali said...

Nice one Sangee..Vybhav is teaching me to have similar attitude towards his 'learning' too. We tend to sometimes feel compelled to give a name to everything. But he learns a new word, looks for other things he can classify under the same category and calls them all the same thing, until he feels comfortable enough/ expresses a desire to differentiate them. And most of the time, it is amazing how right he is in his classification system. Case in point:he knows the word bread and uses it to identify our regular bread, chapathi, idly etc. Also, he knows cat and understands when we say tiger but almost always calls tiger as cat. So I just decided that I'll use the right term when I mention it but not get obsessive about correcting him every time he uses such umbrella terms.

Preethi said...

I so loved reading this Sangee.

As Maya brings us up, so many of my pre-conceived notions about learning and education are being tossed around.

When this happens (or I read pieces like this), I understand how I need to be more meditative and in the moment and understand Maya knows what she wants - I mostly have to step out of the way.

Keep writing and inspiring us.