Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee
Since the time of Confucious back in the sixth century BC, childhood has been known as the "foundation stage of life". The basic attributes and behaviour patterns, the way the child feels and acts, are developed in the first five or six years. They largely determine what kind of person the child will be as an adult. Two separate, but related processes build the foundations for the child's physical development-behaviour and attitude. The processes are maturation and learning. Maturation is the tural development of the child's inherited traits, both mental and physical. It is an ongoing process that begins before birth. When maturation reaches a certain point, learning can begin. For example, when the muscles of the legs and back have matured enough, the infant can learn to walk. Other kinds of maturation and learning will continue 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 automatically nor will maturation do the job alone. Maturation and learning go hand in hand.
Children must reach a certain level of maturity before they can learn the skills of any given activity. The state of readiness to learn a certain thing is called the "teachable moment". But the teachable moment does not occur at the same time for all patterns of behaviour, for all attitudes and feelings and for all children. For example, babies learn hand skills before they learn leg skills. And certain mental abilities develop sooner than others. For instance, imagition develop before reasoning.
All the children are not ready to learn at the same age. Children grow and develop at different rates. Because of this they reach the teachable moment at different times. There are three simple rules, which help to decide if a child is ready to learn a certain thing. For this learning process certain conditions have to be fulfilled.
First of all, the children must show an interest in the thing to be learned. When a toddler tries to put tooth paste on the brush or tries to climb on the seat of a tricycle, there is reason to believe that the toddler may be ready to learn the skills of these activities. Secondly, the interest must continue and become stronger than many other interests. Then 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 are not enough. The fact that a child grabs a soap and washes some cloth in the bath does not always mean that he is ready for self-bathing. Actually he may be playing. But when a toddler takes the wash cloth at every bath time and tries to use it to scrub, it may well be time to help the child learn to wash.
Learning may be either self-initiated or outer-directed. In self-initiated learning, 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.
Self-initiated learning can be divided into three parts: (1) Trial and Error learning, (2) Learning by Imitation, (3) Learning by Identification.
In the trial and error learning, the child tries out one way of doing something and repeats it, if it works. If it does not work, the child tries another way. Filly, the child will hit upon a good method. In learning by imitation, the child copies the behaviour of another person. In learning by identification also, the child copies the behaviour of another person. But learning by identification is different from learning by imitation, because in learning by identification the child copies someone whom he loves and admires, not just any one.
The outer-directed learning may be authoritarian and democratic. In authoritarian learning, children are forced to learn what a person in authority wants them to learn. In democratic learning, the person, helping the children to learn, explains why and how they are expected to learn. The children's interests and needs play a part in the planning of learning activities. Children are rewarded when they do well. They are punished only when they fail.
There is also another kind of learning, which is known as permissive learning. This is much like trial and error learning, because the children are allowed to learn as they please. There is little guidance.
Studies of learning show that the best way to learn is the democratic child-training method. The poorest is the trial and error, which is a form of self-initiated learning. However, the differences between the methods of learning are not clear-cut.
Some may think that children's learning is always carefully planned and formal. But it is not true. Huge amounts of children's learning take place when neither the adults nor the children are thinking about it. Children watch what goes around them and always learn from the behaviour of others. This is specially true about the development of attitudes and feelings. Children's attitudes are largely shaped by those around them.
Children do not learn attitudes and feelings by being told about them. They learn about anger, guilt and punishment when they see an older brother spill milk and watch the way both he and the parents react to the incident. They learn about good manners when they see how their father or mother greets visitors or answers the telephone. They learn about honesty when they watch their parents' behaviour in the shops, supermarkets or in other places. They learn about kindness when someone comforts them when they are sad or hurt.
Adults may not think that they are teaching children at these times. But some of the most important things a child can learn are learned that way. So it is very important for the adults to watch their own behaviour when they are with children. They are always an example to children. Parents and other child caretakers need to know that a child is likely to copy everything they do — their speech, their attitude towards other people, the way they react under pressure, their food habits and everything else. So parents should try hard to practise the attitudes and behaviour, they would like their children to have.
Guidance is the best way to help children. Guidance is specially needed in the early stages of learning something, when the ground work is being laid. For example, when the children are learning to swim, they need help to make sure that they move correctly. Once a good base has been held, the adult does not need to guide the activity too closely. Much of what the child does becomes a habit. But some guidance may still be needed even in the later stages of learning. This is because the child may still make mistakes.
Childhood should be happy. One of the most important things parents can do for their children is to help them find happiness. Parents must make choices that will make it possible for children to grow up happily. There are certain things that add to true happiness. They are achievement, acceptance and affection, which are termed as 3As of happiness by some scholars. Happiness can do lots of things for a child. In fact, childhood happiness helps to make lifelong happiness.
For young children going to school means growing up. Some children may eagerly look forward to going to school. But eagerness may turn into fear. Children may dread leaving the security of home to enter the unknown world of school. Going to school is a major adjustment. Schools should have a pleasant atmosphere. Bright and airy classrooms have a wonderful effect on children's mentality.
Before joining school a child may be eager to go, since he has a new uniform, tiffin box, water bottle, new bag, books etc. But once he enters the school he may be afraid in a strange atmosphere among strange people. Here the role of the teacher is very important. Teachers should realize that every child is an individual with his own likes and dislikes. They are not machine products. The teacher should be affectiote and strict at the same time. Using rod in the class room is disastrous for the child.
Parents also should know that children are lovable and exasperating at the same time, yet they are a vibrant part of the family. Parents should also realize that each child is a separate individual. To help them in giving a boost to their self-confidence, one should let the child to put one step before the other without warning him that he might fall into a puddle. The teacher should give him guidance, but the child must not be pushed. Let him make errors and correct himself. Untried children are always unsure.
Play is necessary for a child. Play differs from work and drudgery. Children develop many values like physical, emotiol, social and intellectual values from play. Play should stimulate young children's physical, social and mental development.
The way a child is trained at home has a huge effect on social adjustment. For that we have to give children a chance to be with the people of all types, ages and home backgrounds. They should be encouraged to follow the wishes of the majority. These activities help children to curb unsocial behaviour patterns and replace them with behaviour that will lead to social acceptance. They should be encouraged to develop play skills. In school, teachers should be fair to all students. Mental activities play a very important role in school adjustment. Parents can help here.
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 make 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 tion.