By Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee
Since the time of Confucius back in the 6th century B.C., childhood has been known as the "foundation age of life". The basic attitudes and behaviour patterns—the way the child feels and acts are developed in the first 5 to 6 years. They largely determine what kind of a person the child will be as an adult.
Two separate yet related processes build the foundations for the child's physical development, behaviour and attitudes. They are maturation and learning. Maturation is the tural development of the child's inherited traits, both mental; and reaches a certain point, learning can begin. For example, when the muscles of the legs and back have matured enough, the baby can learn to walk. Other kinds of maturation and learning will go on at different rates and times.
Learning means getting knowledge, skills and experience. To learn, the child has to work at doing things over and over again. It will not happen by itself. Maturation also will not be able to do the job alone. Maturation and learning go together.
The children must reach a certain level of maturity before they can learn the skills of any given behaviour. The state of readiness to learn a certain thing is sometimes called the "teachable moment". The teachable moment does not occur at the same time for all patterns of behaviour, for all attitudes and feelings or for all children. For example, some babies learn hand skills before they learn leg skills. Then some mental abilities develop sooner than others. For example, imagition develops before reasoning.
Children grow and develop at different rates. Because of this, they reach the teachable moment for any given kind of learning at different times. One three year old, for example, may be ready to learn a certain skill, while another three year old may not yet be physically and psychologically ready.
There are three simple rules which help to decide if a child is ready to learn a certain thing. First of all, the children must show an interest in the thing to be learned. For instance, when a toddler tries to put toothpaste on the brush or tries to climb on to the seat of a tricycle, there is a reason to believe that the toddler may be ready to learn the skills for these activities. Secondly, the interest must continue and even become stronger than many other interests. Thirdly, the performance of the task must improve with practice. It is important to understand that all three of these rules must be used; one or two is not enough.
Learning may be either self-initiated or outer-directed. In self-initiated learning the children decide what to learn and how to learn it. There is little or no guidance from others. In outer-directed learning, the learning is directed and controlled by others.
In self-initiated learning we may include learning by trial and error, learning by imitation and learning by identification. Out-directed learning includes authoritarian, democratic and permissive learning.
However, the difference between the methods of learning is not always clear-cut. For instance imitation is listed as a self-initiated form of learning. But imitation can also be used in training the child and in that case it becomes an outer-directed form of learning.
But we must note that children's learning is not always so carefully planned and formal. Actually huge amounts of children's learning take place when neither adults nor children are thinking about it. Children's attitudes are largely shaped by those around them. Adults may tell children that they should be kind and friendly. But if those around them are usually cross and unfriendly, the children will learn cross and unfriendly attitudes and not the attitudes adults tell them to have.
Children do not learn about attitudes and feelings by being told about them. They learn about anger, guilt and punishment by observing others. They learn about good manners when they see how their mother or father greets visitors or answers the telephone. They learn about honesty when they watch parents' behaviour in stores. They learn about kindness when someone comforts them when they are sad or hurt.
Adults may not think that they are teaching children anything by their every-day behaviour. But some of the most important things a child can learn are learned this way. People usually do not think that much of a child's learning takes place when no one is paying attention. So it is very important for the adults to look into their own behaviour, when they are with children. They are always an example. Parents need to know that a child in likely to copy everything they do.
Guidance is the best way to help children learn. It is specially needed in the early stages of learning something, when the ground work is being laid. Once a good base is laid, the adult does not need to guide the activities quite as closely. Much of what the child does becomes a habit. However, some guidance is still needed even in the later stages of learning. This is because the child may still make mistakes. If the mistakes are repeated instead of being corrected, they would become unwanted habits.
Guide is most needed few the development of feelings and attitudes. There are two reasons for that. First, attitudes and feelings are far less noticeable than many behaviour patterns. Thus undesired attitudes can become deeply rooted before parents become aware of them. Secondly, attitudes and feelings once set are most difficult to change, because they are based on emotions.
Supposing a child is developing a poor attitude towards playing with other children and if the parents think that the child is just tired or wishes to watch some special TV show, they may be overlooking more important causes for the child's behaviour. The child may have had bad experiences with other children or may not enjoy their games. The parents need to try to discover why the child does not play with other children. They have to ensure that the child gets some positive, happy experiences of playing with others.
The example the adults set is very important here, as in others. Are the parents themselves friendly towards other children. Do they welcome other children to play in their home and yard? Do they have adult friends and pleasant times of their own?
Some people think that ture will see to it that children adjust well in life. However, ture just provides the chance for a wide variety of behaviour patterns. The behaviour patterns that will be established depend on learning based on the guidance and examples that the child has.
Without guidance the children would have to depend on trial and error method of learning. This is just not good enough to prepare them for today's complex world. Since young children are not able to guide their own learning, parents have the major responsibility for guiding and training their children.
Childhood foundations play a great role in the way a person later adjusts to life. If the foundations are good, they lead to good persol and social adjustment and to a greater chance for happiness. If they are bad, they leave the person poorly adjusted to the world and less chance for happiness.
A child should have a happy time. One of the most important things parents can do for their children is to help them enjoy happiness. Guidance is essential for laying the foundations of happiness. Children do not know what will or will not lead to happiness. Parents and other adults must make choices that will make it possible for children to grow up happily. People have their own ideas about happiness. What makes one person happy does not make everyone happy, since happiness is persol.
Since happiness is different for each person, there is not one thing that will make children happy. However, there are certain things that add to true happiness. They may be called 3 A's of happiness. They are achievement, acceptance and affection.
To young children, going to school means growing up. Some may want to grow up and have the independence that being grown up brings. They eagerly look forward to going to school. But eagerness may change into fear. The children may dread to leave the security of home in order to enter the unknown world of school. Going to school is a major adjustment. The school should have a pleasant atmosphere. Bright and airy class rooms have a wonderful effect on children's mentality. A child before joining the school may be eager to go, since he has a new uniform, water bottle, bag, books etc. But once he enters the school he may be afraid in a strange atmosphere amongst strange people. Here the role of a teacher is extremely important. The teacher should realize that every child is an individual with his own likes and dislikes. They are not machine products. Some may be able to mix with others quickly and some may take time. The teacher should start with the play way method, as the child needs to learn through play. The teacher should be affectiote and strict at the same time. Using the rod is disastrous for the child. The teacher should know that every child may not have the same calibre; yet one should not be condemned as dull, simply because he is slow in response. Parents also should know that children are lovable and exasperating at the same time; yet they are a vibrant part of the family.
The parents should know that each child is a separate individual. To help them in giving a boost to their self-confidence, one should let the child put one step before the other without warning him that he might fall into a puddle. The teacher should give him guidance, but he must not be pushed. Let him make mistakes and correct himself. Untried children are always unsure. They should be allowed to develop their persolity and here the teacher has a big role to play. The teacher's job is to bring out the potential in each child and to find out in which direction his interest lies. The teacher has to maintain discipline to train the child for future, to make him self-reliant, so that he may face any problem - come what may. The teacher should encourage him in developing his persolity and help him in developing good qualities in him— not by precept, but by example. It is no use teaching him the value of kindness and generosity if the teacher himself/herself is unkind and stem. The child psychology is a study of the aptitude, mentality and the attitude of a child. It is essential to bring out their talents, their persolity and their interests.
Play is necessary for a child; play differs from work and drudgery. Children derive many values—physical, emotiol, social and intellectual values from play. Play equipment should stimulate young children's physical, social and mental development. Many people think that discipline means punishment. But dictiories say that discipline is training in self-control or conformity. Stress should be given on training rather than on punishment. It is true that punishment is often part of discipline but punishment is not all that discipline has. Education is the major feature in the discipline of young children.
Parents should take a hand in disciplining their child before sending him to school. They should discipline the child firmly, but fairly. Mental abilities play a very important role in school adjustment. Reading 'is one of the most important skills learned in the first grade. It plays a decisive role in the child towards school and learning
Creativity should be encouraged and too much TV-watching destroys the imagition of children. The most important thing is to develop self-confidence in a child, so that when he grows up, he can take decisions on his own. Our endeavour should be to build up the character of the future citizens of the country for their welfare and for the welfare of the country.
(The writer is a former Head, Department of Philosophy, Cotton College, Guwahati)