Part 4 – Helping our Children Become Joyful Learners
This is part four of the five-part series – Why I chose Imara’s Holistic Education for my Child which illustrates one parent’s journey through understanding and embracing Imara’s holistic education (commonly referred as alternative education) system, and its impact on her child as well as the broader society. This part talks about Imara’s approach to helping children become joyful learners.
Go back to: Part Three: How does Imara’s Way of Teaching Nurture the Physical Being? | Introduction
In every orientation session and parent-teacher meeting, the facilitators at Imara highlight development of physical, mental and vital (emotional) faculties of a child. Every such interaction is an opportunity to learn more about each of these faculties, and understand how they contribute towards invoking a child’s core potential and divine qualities. Despite listening to these explanations on multiple occasions, it still took me quite some years to understand the method by which these are incorporated in day-to-day schedule of the school.
Imara’s goal is to help its students become self-aware and balanced individuals. To a person new to this holistic education system, it would be confusing to understand this objective. When the entire world outside is focussed on getting higher grades, excelling in competitions, and pushing every ounce of a student’s energy to be better than the rest – these odd talks about being balanced and self-aware might sound disorienting. Would a child actually achieve something significant from this joyful schooling, particularly over the traditional system that has proven to give at least some degree of material success in this world?
Well, first – let’s establish something. Each system of education is valid in its own virtue, and what a parent chooses for their child should entirely depend on the need of that child and the vision of the family. Having said that, let me share my own perspective on some common anxieties that parents have about this alternative system of education, like “if I select this system of education for my child, should I not expect him to become a doctor or an engineer?”, or “how do children face the conventional world when they move out of the school?”, or even “does this school cover academics at all? What syllabus do they follow?”.
Quite naturally, all of these are extremely valid and critical questions. My husband and I too beat our brains out over hundreds of such questions, before we finally made our decision. What helped us the most was speaking to students who had experienced this system of education, and taking advice from parents of such children. As far as the choice of career is concerned, a learner from this system of education can choose any stream and excel in that, just like a traditional student from that stream. How is Imara different then?
The primary difference is that instead of just going through a traditional syllabus, a child ‘learns to learn’ and falls in love with the process of learning at Imara. One part of Imara’s learning system is project work, where learners work on different topics assigned by their facilitators. Some projects are also selected by the learners for themselves. The projects allocated in Imara are designed to cover academics while also imparting all the essential information of collecting, processing, collating, and presenting information. Students also have the freedom to dive deeper into subjects of their choice, allowing them to follow their passions while learning vital skills.
Through years of doing projects individually, and exploring different subjects with as minimal guidance from an adult, children become independent learners and gain the ability to tackle any subject with ease and confidence. They also learn to set personal goals, manage time, and work through obstacles This is by far the best preparation to face a world that is constantly changing – one where merely remembering and recalling information is not a critical skill anymore.
Another significant effort that stands is the preparation done in early years to enable learners to become independent in their lives. Starting from the kindergarten program itself, learning is seamlessly embedded in a child’s way of life. For example, if a class is exploring trees as a subject, they can also cover languages, Maths, Art, Craft, Music, Science and many other subjects through the same conversation. This method of joyful learning is closer to the real world than reading through series of books with disconnected topics. It banks on a child’s natural curiosity to explore the world, and the love for learning propels at this age itself. School then becomes a natural extension of home and kids look forward to being in school every day. I have had instances where my children were extremely disappointed to take even a day off from school.
The early years at Imara also focus on building important mental faculties such as observation, concentration, and focus. Developing these faculties is like sharpening a saw used to cut a tree – by leveraging these faculties, learning happens at a much faster pace and yet at a much deeper level. To nurture concentration, the school encourages children to work on areas that they are naturally inclined towards for a longer duration of time. Take an example of quiet activity – learners are provided with different materials and they are free to use these materials for anything they want to create. The only rule is not to disturb others and have respect for the material they have been given.
A child new to this system would initially find it difficult to do much as there are no instructions given at this time. It is somewhat confusing for children – who are trained to work with directions and instructions. Another important element is the adult available during this quiet activity does not praise or reprimand the child whatsoever. There are no remarks made on the child’s work. They are allowed to express themselves however they want. Even if a child asks for opinion, the facilitators gently redirect the questions back to the learners and their feeling about their work. It is a vital act, as the child then starts working for their learning, their expression, and for their satisfaction.
Over the course of time, a child who was previously struggling to concentrate even for a couple of minutes starts immersing themself for more than twenty minutes at a stretch, and this period keeps growing. The child also leverages their power of observation of the world in their work, thus giving them an opportunity to build their expression of the world. Facilitators have also observed that the beauty of the entire process, and the joy of creation that a child feels is an important step towards becoming independent learners. The quietness of the entire process brings about a lot of calmness and balance to the child, and is carried forward to rest of their day.
The faculties of observation and concentration are also developed through various physical activities done during the day. The objectives for these are defined as per the age of the child, and are weaved into their overall curriculum and learning processes. These ‘building blocks’ of learning start from early years, and are enhanced throughout various tactics used for different age groups. Even during their project work, facilitators encourage children to learn on their own, and sufficient time is provided to explore a subject, developing navigation, problem solving, and decision-making skills.
On several occasions, I have seen learners stomping around facilitators and asking them to give straightforward answers to their questions. However, they are gently guided back with little direction and motivation. Many a time, parts of projects are redone after hitting roadblocks. This builds resilience and the ability to overcome obstacles – qualities that are extremely vital to survive in the world. These are real life skills that are built gradually alongside academic learning. The advantage of this is that along with their intellect and mental faculties, a child focusses on developing a healthy body and learns to work through their emotions.
As I discussed earlier, interacting with senior learners gave me a lens into the grooming provided by this system. I felt they were independent learners who aim to know their own strengths and limitations. I saw them continuously work on themselves through success, disappointment, and the usual confusion that comes naturally through teenage years. Their calmness and clarity was simply astounding! Today, they have moved out of Imara and into the world where they are thriving successfully.
The questions we can ask ourselves are – Why is learning important? Should a child simply learn for exams, or rather fall in love with learning itself? How can we empower children to become independent learners who can make conscious choices? Will these qualities help them in their future? Will it really improve their quality of life? In my understanding, if the world is in a constant flux, then being joyful and life-long learners is definitely an important perquisite to live meaningfully, and succeed in through phases of life.
Next: Part Five: The Importance of Emotional Intelligence