Reconstructed learning for children during COVID-19
On a regular day when students are bogged down with classes, assignments and exams we hardly get the time to step back and reflect on what we want to explore or what kind of learning is life-worthy. In the current standstill, instead of pushing them again into another rigid routine, we can help our children take a moment for soul-searching and self-exploration to better identify their niche and passion. So that when this storm is over and the world takes a new direction they can reinforce or reinvent their paths.
No two people are the same, now that we do not have the shackles of standardized syllabus and exams, we can take this opportunity to help explore and unleash the individuality of our children. To understand your children's interests, it is important to be at their level, meaning to literally sit with them on the floor or lie down with them, to be able to observe their expressions. Patiently, when you see something that makes them smile or instantly catches their attention, gets them excited and keeps them busy for hours you will know it is of interest to them. Once you identify their interest you just need to give them resources to supplement it. If your child loves cars, then supplement that with documentaries on cars and how they are made, ask them to write a story on their dream car and maybe even teach them basic math using cars.
Google and Wikipedia has all the importation we could ever offer and more. What's important is that we teach them to sift through information intelligently and weigh evidence to be able to tell right from wrong. This pandemic and the spread of misinformation have shown us how important it is to be able to critically analyze the information. According to research, asking "why" is the critical ingredient in unravelling difficult social conflicts and chaos.
Curiosity stimulation is another factor that is largely missing from the culture of compliance and a toxic race for high scores. Students who are usually very curious lose the sense of time and they may often forget immediate goals or deadlines because they are occupied with reducing the gap between what they know and what they want to know. However, during stressful times such as this, it is the curiosity that helps children be more adaptable and regulate anxiety. We can start by modelling curiosity and asking meaningful questions like where do we come from? Or where did the universe come from? Or how did this pandemic start? Good questions contain "why," "what if," and "how." Once they get engaged we can help them search for the answers on the Internet or books. Google is great at finding answers but doesn't stimulate the formation of questions. Rewarding them for their questions or for their continued inquisitive approach can also motivate them. Just like Steve Jobs we can also have a sceptic mindset, question the status quo and guide our children on their path to exploration by sharing resources or ideas.
The other catastrophe that is looming upon us is the climate crisis, so we can also prepare students to have an environmentally sustainable mindset plus, being in contact with nature also plays a crucial role in brain development. According to one recent study finding, cognitive development is promoted in association with outdoor green space. But in the current situation that may not be possible so instead, we can create little gardens or green spaces with our children in our homes. In our usual busy screen filled world co-creating, a garden space can not only help children learn to grow plants but also build a sense of compassion towards nature. Whether growing vegetables, fruits, or a variety of herbs, edible gardens can be valuable tools that can also promote healthier eating habits and teach environmental stewardship.
Finally, we can take this opportunity to rekindle our bonds with family and friends to show our children how happiness is directly correlated to happy relationships. In the 80-year old research conducted by Harvard Medical School, it was found that close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives. According to the study, 'Those ties protect people from life's discontents, help to delay mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ, or even genes.' Therefore, by modelling compassion and kindness with our close ones in this volatile period we can show our children the true meaning of happiness.
Azwa Nayeem is the Chairperson of Alokito Hridoy Foundation.