Traditional education underwent monumental changes from the time the pandemic closed schools a year ago. A majority of parents of school-age children would agree that the past year has been tough.
Amidst such challenging times, there were also parents who saw it as an opportunity to bring about a change in their approach to parenting. They climbed the virtual learning curve with child-led learning methodologies, homeschooling techniques and other alternative learning methods.
In a pre-pandemic world, Deepthi Nannam’s three-and-a-half-year-old son would, in all probability, have followed the conventional pattern — being enrolled in a pre-school and going through the rigmarole of a hectic pace of learning.
Then the lockdown happened. With safety being paramount, Deepthi saw herself drawn towards homeschooling.
“It was at that time that I started doing a lot of online research on Montessori ways of learning, about how to integrate sensory activities in our daily routine and ways of developing pre-writing skills. This has been a fascinating learning experience for me in understanding my child’s developmental needs,” says Goa-based Deepthi. The past year gave her a different perspective — that of leading her two sons towards a more practical and hands-on method of education. From demonstrating the dispersion of white light into seven colours with the help of a plastic ruler to sketching a monthly phenology wheel to document the flora and fauna they come across, her learning graph as a parent saw a steep climb.
For Visakhapatnam-based Gayathri Sreeramaneni, the pandemic opened doors to formal, elementary training in Montessori — something she had been waiting to do for a long time.
“This is perhaps the first time that such a course was made available online for educators and parents. Living in a tier-II city, getting access to alternative learning methods is tough. The pandemic has bridged that gap and helped parents like me explore a path towards education that is child-led. The training gives a deeper understanding of the child’s needs according to their age. In a conventional schooling system, you teach and the child consumes. When learning is child-led, (when children decide what they want to learn), it helps the child understand the concepts from within,” she says.
A supportive community
As an educator, Chennai-based Vaishali BK has seen a growing interest among parents in homeschooling/child-led learning during the past one year.
“This is true especially for parents of younger children; the online model of education does not suit all. Children are sensorial learners. Online education comes with its set of challenges and rules that can be overwhelming for young children, since it requires the child to stay put in front of a screen and demands a prolonged attention span. Parents have been quick to notice this, and are trying to bridge the gap with homeschooling,” she says.
Vaishali has been conducting workshops on Montessori parenting sporadically over the past two years. It is now, more than ever before, that she says parents have been asking for support. She has started holding online workshops every month.
“The response has been amazing; and it is wonderful to know so many parents feel empowered to support their child at home in these difficult times. Even if they are full-time working parents or in different family set-ups, they can provide rich opportunities for children to aid in development and keep the love for learning alive,” she says.
Vaishali believes that curriculum can always be done later with the support of school. “Many parents are trying to actively understand what their child needs and how to provide these opportunities at home,” she adds.
For example, a child throwing objects may not necessarily be destructive, but maybe in the trajectory schema of play. Building towers with wooden blocks, joining train tracks or simply sticking things together with tape are all signs of the connecting schema. The enclosing schema is about creating boundaries; for instance, a child creating enclosures for his/her toys. When children are in this schema of play, they learn that objects or ideas can be contained in a discrete space. There are other schema of plays like positioning, enveloping, or rotation that are manifested in a child’s behaviour which in a traditional parenting approach are not given much importance.
Now many parents are getting to understand this through online courses and social media support groups. “We can aid the developmental needs of the child by providing play opportunities such as blowing bubbles or obstacle courses. Pouring water activities in gardening can also support it, if the child does not have opportunities to slide or play ball outdoors,” she says.
“Earlier, we did not really know where to find resources to adopt a child-led learning approach. Now we have access to many resources online,” says Chennai-based Grace Lyne, who calls herself an “eclectic homeschooler” to her five-year-old son. Grace says she takes the best from every alternative learning methodology to integrate in her way of parenting.
- Shift the focus from concept-based curriculum to filling the child’s emotional bucket: self-regulation, communication, empathy, self-esteem and love for learning.
- Provide all the tools needed and be vigilant for learning opportunities. For example, rangoli can be a practical lesson in colour mixing and symmetry. Or helping in the kitchen leads to conversation about the life cycle of plants.
- Remove all things that are obstacles to the child’s development. Sometimes we get too caught up with what we think the child should know and may quiz the child or keep interrupting when they are working or force an uninterested child to learn something, when in reality they can learn so much more if it is child-led.
- Finally, be kind to yourself. Some days are hits and some days are hard. It is easy to get carried away with what we may see on social media and doubt ourselves or our child’s capacities.
In her years of experience as a teacher, Aishwarya Dwarkanath could not have anticipated presiding over empty classrooms. And that is what she has done throughout the year. Aishwarya, who recently launched homeschooling courses for parents, says the registrations poured in particularly from tier-II cities.
She formulated two self-paced online courses (suitable for children aged two-and-a-half to four years and four to six years) for parents who are looking to empower themselves.
“It is a heartening change, as more and more parents come forward to empower themselves in ways that create happy childhoods,” says Aishwarya.