Dear class teacher of my son,
Thank you for a detailed response and the kind words. I am my son’s father and I take my responsibilities very seriously.
I do take cognizance of the needs of the child in this stage of development, typically called the Child of Seven in Montessori terms (actually 6-12 years). I am aware about their inquisitive nature, especially the transition from the erstwhile “what”s to the now incessant “why”s. And I am also painfully aware of the transformation of the orderly little angle into an unruly, unkempt brat in this stage, which is but a facade they carry over the deep mental order they are creating.
Actually, latest developments in neuroscience do let us know that the brain in this age is trying to triage the number of synapses, the connections between the neurons, the brain cells, in an attempt to better organize the brain, so that it gets more energy efficient. And yes, one other thing in this stage is that it is mighty hard to make them focus on run of the mill and uninteresting stuff.
Tell them about a cow, it is uninteresting and they will begrudgingly write about its four legs and two horns. But tell them that it chews its cud, it could either lead to a fascinating discussion and inquiry into the digestive systems or the meanings of the new words like cud, regurgitate, etc. (probably with some nasty humor thrown in about these 7-8 year olds regurgitating their own food, but we put a brave face and smile with them, trying not to cringe at our own nasty sense of humor at that age).
But then to get them to read/write is a herculean task and there are two approaches:
1. Make them read/write tomes of materials, either as classwork or homework as if there is no tomorrow since it would seem that they need to get started with writing Iliads & Great Gatsbys by the time they are done with their Primary. And ensure that they get their spellings correct and the handwriting neat. Add to this the obsession we Indians seem to have somehow gained about memorizing nuggets of information, mistaken for knowledge or wisdom. So we ensure that the children read/write the question and answers, fill in the blanks, match the lists, etc. exactly as how it is written by the teacher on the unquestionable blackboard. This fortunately makes it easy to quantify the amount of information learned by the child. So the teacher is not burdened with any involved assessments.
2. Make them interested in various topics. Weave a web of interesting and interconnected stories that can lead them on their own personal quest of information and knowledge. Let each child explore and find their own way of expression; and in that why limit to reading/writing? Drawing, drama, etc. are other means of expression. And in this digital age, the camera too is one such medium. Equip the children to not just inquire, but also find the answers on their own. Ground the child in the continuity that there is between then (big bang to formation of galaxies, planets, Earth, life) and now (Human civilizations, culture and arts, science and technology), here and there. Let the child grasp the interconnectedness of everything (ecology, food chains, extinctions, migrations, economy, society, purpose of humans, wastefulness of wars, egos) and see how they collaborate & work together instead of rubbing off the blackboard since they have finished copying whats there and want the others to get scolded for not being fast enough.
It was so easy to get my son to write a whole A4 sheet about the transit of Venus last month that he got himself interested in because it expanded his previous knowledge about the orbits of the planets around the sun. But I found it difficult in getting him to write 6 points about migration today given as home work. But he did learn how to use the Index of a book to look up Migration in a couple of reference books stocked in our mini library. He did grasp the reason why the Arctic tern migrates from Arctic to Antarctic and back again, around 30,000 KM every year (the opposite seasons in the northern and southern hemispheres due to that peculiar and just the right amount of tilt in the Earth’s axis).
He also learned about the painful migration that millions had to undergo during the partition of India and Pakistan, with some profound questions about the reasons behind that ghastly decision that I did not have ready answers for. Wish our politicians inquired like that! Yes, I did not hide the hideous past. It is his right to know. So yes, I am glad and satisfied with his progress today, even if he did not complete the 10 points about Migration.
I am glad that the school believes that mere bookish knowledge is not enough. I too take a similar view. Of what value knowledge if one does not know how to put it to use?
I will continue to collaborate with the school in the best interests of my son.
Concerned father of a Child of Seven