Monday, September 5, 2011

Oh! am I a slow coach?

Thoughts of a mother for the teachers of India - On the occasion of Teacher's day;

"Oh! mummy why am I such a slow coach," complained 'J' with a very irritated voice. "Today I was also very clumsy, I dropped glass of juice in the birthday party and now I again dropped a glass of water." "Yes, I know," I told her solemnly. “It is fine to be slow than fast and faulty and it is okay to be clumsy once in a while," I added quickly to my normally neat daughter. We talked about other things and soon irritation from her voice vanished.

Who else will know than a parent about the minute details of their child/ren. 'J' has been a slow one, from the time she was born and therefore a calm, quiet, patient, sensitive and shy one too. I remember a scene where she was making a tower with building blocks in front of me and another friend of mine and in that age (around 1 and a 1/2 years) she used have great fun by breaking the tower also. So after making the tower she spread her arms to break the it but suddenly she saw my friend and she immediately put her hands down, both me and my friend were amazed to see her control and her facial expression of extreme shyness.

Then I remember trails of scenes like, her day care teacher gave me a sheet of paper where 'J' had scribbled all over with no space left. "A sign of patience and calmness", she told me.  'J' started walking much later than her peers but when she started walking she was all okay, no stumbling or wiggling. Then, she took long time to learn the colors, and I was almost loosing may patience. But she learnt them finally, same happened with learning shapes. She was never the one who could churn out rhymes after rhymes just on a single demand. She learned at the most 5 rhymes at a time and forgot them while moving towards other things of life. Her shyness was extreme till age 5 and I had tough time coping with that. She was late in speaking, also because she was listening more than two languages around her. She was late in eating with fork and knife as at home she was seeing her parents following Indian way of eating with hands. She was late in adjusting herself in her day care, she was extremely attached with me and her physical activity was not anywhere close to any of her peers in her group. She also started showing lateness in learning alphabets. I was also in a mess in that time with new motherhood and other things in my life. So  her slowness, in general bothered me even the more. 

Thankfully, we were living in Europe at that time and the pedagogy (process of teaching) out there is very effective and different than in India. All the care takers of day care and kindergarten teachers and later on her primary school teachers guided us through with great patience and I learned a lot of pedagogy (teaching+child psychology and/or child development) from them. This was a refreshing change for me in comparison to India were children and their ability are status symbol of their parents. Children are also subject of plenty of discussion and extreme curiosity among relatives and neighbors in India. For most it does not matter if a child is sensitive, helpful, good mannered, learn about his/her own safety and others safety, creative, innovative, but he/she should be able to recite poems, memorize times (multiplication) table and should be able to write in cursive handwriting by the age of 4.

Europe has acquired a very different perspective about child rearing over the years (decades ago they also had similar attitude like most of us have in India towards kids)  and that helped us and ‘J’ to overcome or extend our boundaries and move ahead for the next challenge. This also helped us to keep our calm in the face of new circumstances and environment. 

Here are some small gestures we got from most people in Europe and which helped us to come out of our own demands and anxiety of parenting and to understand a child;

  • Never ever a stranger has tried to squeeze 'J's cheek or fumble her hair. Old grannies,  if they wanted they asked before touching her fingers very gently or hold her toe when she was a baby or a toddler. This was our first lesson about respecting children's body and will.
  • When she grew up and started speaking, never ever her day care attendant or any one else commented that why she is shying to tell her age to them. They always suggested that, "If you like you can show your age with fingers." 'J' responded to this smilingly and they exclaimed "Oh! you are almost a big girl." 
  • She was going in a German day care, we could speak and understand German but definitely that was not the pure form. 'J' was showing slowness in speaking, I went to her day care teacher and asked, "Should we speak German with her at home too?  May be that will help her learn to speak faster." The reply was, "No, mother tongue is very important in a child's life it will be a trunk of the tree where all the other languages she will be learning later will be the branches and you don't worry 'J' is showing signs of understanding German, she just wants to get sure before starting to speak, and with in few weeks 'J' started speaking, she was 14 months then, German in day care, Bengali at home. Few words first,  and then she started forming sentences.  
  • 'J' started walking pretty late, but then her steps were perfect. We went to the day care the next day, and announced in pride that our daughter is walking now. Every one where very happy. In the evening we went to pick her up and asked enthusiastically, " Did she walk today?" "No, we guess she will take her time to feel confident to walk here", replied the day care person. After one month they gave us the news that 'J' walked in the day care for the first time and she did it with great confidence.
  • Once I asked her kindergarten teacher that she not really interested in learning alphabets, they told me that I should take more care to build a routine of sports or nature walk with her as it is all-right if a child does not show interest in reading/learning or writing till the age of seven. But by then they should learn to swim, cycle and play team games. The reason was that sports will give her the aptitude and energy towards life along with a easy method to retain good health.
  • When she started going to school, she was also learning a new language and she was confusing with 'b' and 'd', 'was' and 'saw' etc. She was also writing mirror images of several alphabets and numbers like S or 5, specially while tired or nervous. I got worried, and asked her teacher, "Should we go for a special training for her?" In Europe all schools do have counselling and special training if required. Her teacher in a calm voice told me, "She is not the only child writing this way. There are similar in the class and they have never learned more than one language or changed places/countries. So we should definitely give her more time." I an Indian mother persisted, "So shall I teach her little extra at home?" "You both work very hard the whole day in your laboratory or school, so after going home just relax, spend time with each other or listen to music or watch TV together. Life is not only about learning, it is also to enjoy", was the answer, in a tone even more persistent. 
  • Later I observed that the teacher did do some extra things and gave useful tips to children to solve all the above said symptoms visible in many children in primary school age. Also special care was taken for proper pronunciation and expression. Maths was dealt in a very tactful manner too. So that children don't get afraid of numbers or their properties. And by the end of that year, I found 'J' was a lot better and not confused any more. She was writing stories, letters and expressing her thoughts properly and carefully. 
  • 'J' went to five different places (day cares, kindergarten and school) in Europe in first 6 years of her life and anywhere she went, she was extremely shy or cautious in first few months and then she started loosening up, and we always got the report from the carers/teachers that now 'J' has opened up and she has started to learn very fast. So every place gave her those few months of settling down time, an attitude so rare to be seen in Indian childcare/educational systems.
  • Finally just before arriving in India, I asked 'J's class teacher in Scotland, "Do you think she will be able to learn other new languages and will be able to manage the extreme pressure of conventional education system of India?" Her teacher assured me, "'J' has learned the method of learning, so any where you throw her she will tumble at first but slowly she will start collecting herself, you as a mother can hold her finger while she is in tumbling stage but then you need not to worry, she will be fine. She will never be the fastest one but don't worry she will be fit."
I said, thank you to the teacher and left the class with shiny eyes to start our journey for our own country, where education is still apart from life and far from contemporary.

Child carers, teachers and counsellors are you listening?

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