“Children are not things to be moulded but people to be unfolded”
A recent research article shared that India's preschool market will grow immensely in the next few years. The current trend shows parents rushing to enrol their children in school and reserve a spot as soon as they are born! The question that arises is what is being taught in schools at that tender age?
There has been a lot of debate surrounding the right age for children to start school. The trend lately shows schools admitting students as early as two years old. According to Stanford research, parents might send their children to school too early. Studies show that students who start academics at school late show better focus and executive functions in their latter years of schooling, even when faced with distractions. The Nordic countries have proved that their system of having kids start school at eight benefits them in the long run. Nordic children are exposed to only social skills and playtime in school from age 4 to 7. Core curriculum subjects in school start from 8 onwards. What can we learn from them?
The early childhood years are critical in laying solid foundations for a child and promoting holistic growth. It is essential as a foundation for the inculcation of social and personal habits that will last a lifetime. Therefore, it is logical that we invest in the child's future and afford appropriate engagements and experiences that enhance the child's development in the early years. A child learns mostly through play and interactions with the people and the environment around them. Playtime gives a child opportunities to explore, observe, experiment, and solve problems. While it is vital to support and guide a child through this phase, it is paramount that we give them the freedom to make mistakes.
In the past, the people and the community played a great role in educating their children. The village came together to entertain the child with folklore, stories, lullabies, and traditional games that provided the perfect balance of exposure to learning for a child in the hands of the grandparents and elders in the family. I had the good fortune of being regaled by personal narratives from my grandmother every night, and I have passed on those stories to my children. She was such a good storyteller that I always believed them true and that my grandma was an adventurous traveller. It was only later that I realised that she had never set foot outside our village and town her entire life! Her knowledge of the outer world came from the stories passed down to her as a child. Many such people in my growing-up years educated me with their experiences. My earliest memories of education included but were not limited to learning how to milk a cow, catch a chicken, make cow-dung patties, draw water from a well, climb a tree, knot a rope, and so on. I also grew up on games requiring critical thinking and problem-solving skills without technology or equipment. 'Gilli danda(Tip cat)', 'Chor Sipahi (cops and robbers)', 'Pittoo(Seven Stones)', 'Kanche(marbles)' are a few that come to mind. Which school could have given me these experiences? It is time we bring these simple yet powerful experiences back into our schools.
Today as families become more nuclear in size, kids are being enrolled in schools early on by their working parents. Schools to increase enrollment are now catering to the demands of the parents to create a path to Ivy League as early as preschool. Parents and schools are falling into the trap of academic competition; the only ones losing out in this mad rush are the students. Educators need to stop and think about how we approach early childhood education. We are an authority in education. We have years of research at our fingertips. Schools can keep enrollment open, but can we not create a curriculum of play and social interactions instead of academics? The need of the hour is to create a foundation for lifelong learning. The preschool curriculum should be based on an integrated approach to care, education, and teaching, emphasizing pedagogy. Introducing new skills to students when they are ready leads to learning, not frustration and anxiety, as is the case lately. Student learning should be steered by their interests rather than by a set curriculum.
The first six to eight years of a child's life lasts a lifetime. So let's make it purposeful, nurturing, and playful!