Speed math, brain gym, abacus…parents are eager to make their kids super achievers. How beneficial are these programmes, asks HEMA VIJAY
Once upon a time, there was a happy world for children with just school to go to, and the streets to play in after school. Formal learning ended at school, period. Life was simple, for kids at least.
Today, kids too are ensnared in the rat race. All parents want their kids to be super-achievers and put them through abacus, speed math, vedic math, mental math, brain gyms, and whatever else. Whew! With so much on offer, parents are racking their brains trying to decide the right enhancement course for their kids. How does one make sense of it all? And do these programmes really work?
“Our programmes facilitate multiple intelligence development,” says K. Swaminathan, Aspire, which has programmes not just for kids, but even for newborn babies! Huh? “Whether we work towards it or not, babies are constantly learning different things,” he says.
True enough. After all, babies learn their mother tongue (language), identify faces (visual), etc. “By giving more inputs in a structured way, we enhance the process so that learning even arithmetic becomes easy for the baby.”
Consider the many abacus programmes. The premise is, during the mental arithmetic computation stage in abacus, the child uses both his left and right brain. “This gets the whole brain working at a great speed and activates the brain cells such that all the brain faculties would be at high performance levels,” claims Basheer Ahmed, CMD, UCMAS.
“The abacus harnesses a different set of brain cells to achieve the same function — it uses visual ability to achieve mathematic function,” agrees Prof. E.S. Krishnamoorthy, Director, Institute of Neurological Sciences, VHS Hospital, Chennai. “By learning any new skill, a child stocks up on his cognitive reserve, which is great for mental health,” he adds.
Balanced decision vital
But while cognitive ability (theory, language, arithmetic ability, abstract and visual understanding, etc) can be enhanced by programmes, one should not go overboard. “Parents need to make a balanced decision,” insists Dr. Krishnamoorthy. A smart child may get smarter and an average child may become better, only if the child enjoys the process. “On the other hand, if the child doesn’t gel with it, but is compelled to go through it, it becomes drudgery. The pile of extra homework, the consequent missed-out playtime, and peer pressure to perform would actually cause the process to backfire,” he warns.
So, watch how your child reacts to a programme, and do not overload a child. And remember, children don’t learn from formal classes alone. “A lot of informal learning happens through social interaction and just hanging out with friends,” says Dr. Krishnamoorthy. For normal and healthy emotional development, this is absolutely crucial. So, do not sacrifice your kid’s playtime. Playtime is precious too.
Come to think of it, India has been producing whiz kids for generations, who made it to the IITs, MIT, and Harvard without ever taking up special programmes! There are many ways of enhancing a child’s mental faculties. “If a child is reasonably intelligent and quick-witted, it makes more sense for him to take up a game like chess, or puzzle solving which would increase his problem-solving ability. This is more important than just speed in calculation,” suggests S. Anand, who holds a double engineering degree from BITS Pilani and an M.S. from the University of Connecticut, and now tutors aspirants to the IITs and intellectual Olympiads.
And finally, we might also create casual and natural opportunities for a child. For instance, if a child is curious and approaches you with a question on how electricity works, explore the question with him, perhaps set up a simple experiment; or if you feel inadequate in exploring the concept, get him access to a person who can explain it. Likewise, if your child likes stories, encourage him to create his own story; keep books within his reach and he will gravitate to them, and perhaps become a great writer.
Childhood is precious. By all means, help kids build their future. But, let‘s not tie it up totally in packages. Let’s not give the child a military schedule. Let us leave stress out of childhood at least.