Seetha Anand Vaidyam
Sit quietly; open your books and read with me; fill in the blanks; write the missing numbers in the box; colour inside the printed outline…
Instructions seem to be endless for the children in Kindergarten. Do you think such instructions are normal, harmless, and necessary? If your answer is yes, then please read further.
Let us take this one by one –
- Sit quietly – Children below seven years cannot sit quietly for more than 10 to 15 minutes at a stretch. Then how do we expect them to sit quietly for much longer and be involved in academic work?
- Open your books and read with me/fill in the blanks, etc. – Books require children to read/write. Before they are made to read and write, children should first be helped with their hand-eye coordination, eye tracking, motor skills, and comprehension skills. These are called fundamental skills which help later learning including reading and writing.
- Colour inside the printed form/picture – Children need to experience free hand drawing no matter how meaningless or unaesthetic they look. Colouring inside a printed outline constricts them. It does not help them express themselves in the true sense of the term.
So if textbooks should not do the above, what should they do? This brings us to my next question: do we need textbooks in the Kindergarten?
Kindergartens today, by and large, are geared towards teaching reading and writing the letters and numbers (if not already taught in nursery), simple spellings, and perhaps simple addition and subtraction. Some of the instructions that are given in kindergarten textbooks are truly unrealistic in terms of their expectation of the age group that they are meant for. If kindergartens are required to give miniature versions of later lessons then we need textbooks. If on the other hand, the objective of kindergartens is to create a strong foundation for later learning, then more than on reading and writing, the focus should be on –
- Training the senses or sensory integration;
- Motor skill development, both gross and fine.
- Comprehension and language in terms of ability to understand what is spoken and the ability to express oneself clearly.
- To build physical strength and muscle tone.
- To help increase attention span and concentration.
For the above mentioned to happen in a proper way, academic learning should be minimal if not totally avoided. Children instead should be given opportunities to experience and enjoy –
- Music, singing.
- Movement both imitative and spontaneous.
- Handwork that will make them dexterous and aid hand-eye coordination.
- Play that will make them active and creative.
- Stories and rhymes that will allow them to be imaginative and think sequentially.
Parents and teachers should be asked to read guides and books written by pediatricians, therapists, and other experts on childhood so that they gain a holistic view of children and understand their age appropriate needs.
So instead of seating children in front of a blackboard or with open textbooks staring at them from their desks, just let them move to the rhythms of a song with actions, or to a story, or even a lesson; let them unconsciously learn to listen carefully to catch the tune of a song that is sung repeatedly to them; let them listen to a story and imagine it scene by scene and learn the values that are told within the stories; let them play and run and move outdoors, so that they develop physical strength and a host of other skills which only free movement can give.
This is in no way an attempt to undermine the role of reading and writing and that of textbooks, but this is an attempt to emphasize that since reading and writing are so important, we need to develop skills that are pre-requisite to reading and writing. This also does not mean that children are left aimlessly to play. Creating discipline, developing good language skills and comprehension, helping motor skill development and listening skills is no mean achievement. It requires a lot of planning and execution.
The kindergarten years should not be seen as a time to push in learning in smaller bits to prepare for more learning later. The foundation needs to be created. Foundation in a building does not mean laying smaller bricks but digging deep!! When reading and writing is done prematurely, it becomes a burden and may stunt the natural development of certain skills.
Enjoy your child’s kindergarten years and also let your child enjoy those vital years. Textbooks, reading, and writing are for later years, now is the time to move, play, share; to eat nutritious food and develop physical strength; to sing; to do, draw and sew and to listen, imagine and think in pictures!!
The author is an Early Childhood Curriculum Developer, Trainer and Remedial Therapist. She works through Ananda, a Foundation for holistic and healthy learning and living. She can be reached at [email protected].