What does it take to teach children to love learning?

– By Gayathri Tirthapura, Trustee at Tejasvita Trust

Arokya, a 5 year old boy was diligently working on the activity of the day – sorting pictures of fruits by both the type of fruit and the colour. As he sorted and stuck these 12 fruit pictures to his heart’s content on a piece of paper in a 6*2 matrix format, he seemed confident of what he was doing. He was also completely engrossed and seemed at peace doing this activity. He fearlessly got up to request for more glue and sat down to complete the rest of the activity. With great pride, he handed over the finished work to the teacher.

The teacher beamed at the finished work and having realized that there was a mistake in the sorting, gently asked Arokya, “What color is this?”, pointing to one of the fruit pictures.

“Red” Arokya answered.

The teacher then pointed to rest of the pictures in that column and before she could ask anything more, Arokya started laughing and took his finished work back to his spot. He had realised his mistake. He had sorted that one picture wrong. He corrected it, all the time laughing at himself and his silly mistake. The rest of the children doing their activity around him were engrossed in their own sorting battles and didn’t seem to be bothered by this episode.

One of the things I love doing every week is to visit a few of the preschool classrooms we work in, in the urban low income communities of Bangalore, India. It’s hard to imagine the kind of backgrounds these children come from. Being children of house maids, truck drivers and many other low paying and/or unstable professions, they represent some of the poorest in the country. Conditions are hard at home but their parents have decided that their children will have a better future. They have chosen affordable private schools (APS) for their children’s schooling where we, a non-profit organisation run our preschool supplementary program to support the existing early childhood classrooms. Our program is holistic and supports the cognitive, physical, social and emotional development of a child.

As I survey the classroom consisting of 36 children and 3 teachers, all absorbed in sorting, I can’t help but feel awed by how the teachers have accomplished this feat of engaging everyone in learning. Just 7 weeks ago when we started classes for this academic year, we struggled to set the classroom expectations with the children. Back then, they seemed to have very low entitlement, survival instincts were high, they were not willing to share or take turns and more than a few even resorted to aggression when things didn’t go their way. Back then, learning cognitive skills in such an atmosphere seemed like a far away dream.

Working in the early childhood space for about 10 years now has convinced me that being a teacher for young children requires a big heart, patience and stamina more than any other skill. You may have a great curriculum and lots of training in pedagogy but it can only take you so far. This is especially true if you are trying to build lifelong skills and values in children. The child watches his/her teacher’s every move and absorbs the vibe – is she excited about this activity she is doing with me, is she angry that I made a mistake, did she get irritated because I kept calling her again and again without waiting for my turn, did she cheer the other child up when he was sad, did she help him when the other child hit him. These vibes in the classroom shape the child’s mood and hence the motivation to learn. The longer teachers can create a good vibe in the classroom, the more steady learners the classroom will have.

I think of all the different things a teacher has to do simultaneously in the classroom to create the right vibe. She has to engage children with the right level of challenges based on their abilities, scaffold each child’s learning, while at the same time handling challenging behaviours of children patiently and be cheerful and excited about the activities all through the session.

As Carl Jung, the famous Swiss psychiatrist once said, “The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child” . It is this warmth that can shape the motivation of a child to learn. On this teachers’ day,  I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the teachers at Tejasvita and across the world for their passion, commitment and the warmth they carry in service of the holistic development of children.


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