‘Dress up your child as a peacock for a school assembly tomorrow’
‘Teach your child 5 lines about nature for a special project’
Well meaning lines that anyone with school going children (yes, even pre-nursery) has faced at some point or the other. Today, schools are definitely more creative in their approach, and in turn, parents too are way more involved in their child’s school activities. But, as Sangeeta Sudhakaran points out, who are these activities really benefiting? And how much is too much?
Do you remember your school days?
Flashback – some twenty five years ago when I was in school. In those days, only the most troublesome kids had their parents called to meet the teacher. Only the students who couldn’t match the teacher’s pace even with help and supervision at home for their studies, were sent to tuition classes. Other than for maths, at which I am unbelievably inept, I didn’t need much supervision for studies after the fifth standard. The first ever time I attended a tuition class was when I was in the tenth standard and it was for my nemesis – Mathematics. It didn’t take much more than a rolling of eyes or a stern talking to, to get me to sit and study. I fared quite well in all exams. Of course there always were comments from Mummy that “I could have done better”, but then that was more like a mandatory parental duty to spot that line and I let it slide. As long as I was passing every exam with distinction, all was well in my world.
I completed some of my schooling in Sharjah and some in Mumbai, and I remember that the two or three students in the class who were rumored to take tuitions were considered to be “buddhus”. It was a rumor that they would never confirm – it was THAT rare for kids to have to take tuitions. My parents were hardly ever called to school because the fees were sent with me and I paid it like all other kids did. Open house and annual days were the only occasions when parents of not-so-troublesome kids were called to school. Projects, essays, poetry and elocution competitions and such were completely my headache. My parents weren’t expected to write speeches for me or have me rehearse lines. They weren’t ever given the run around to source costumes or dresses for fancy dress, blue day, pink day, red day and such. If some parents liked to be involved in their child’s studies and extra curricular activities, they certainly could. But they had the luxury of choice.
Cut to the present, where my five year old daughter has speeches, plays, projects and other such well meaning activities that her school earnestly hopes will help in her overall development. I should be grateful that her school is so keenly focusing on her personality development. I should be amazed at the variety of activities planned for these little kids so that school is fun. I should be happy that the curriculum is aiming at a well-rounded education that will prepare her for the big bad world of ‘real’ schooling – the first grade. I see how they’re trying to cover all bases with cursive writing, speeches, projects, plays and even an introduction to Hindi alphabets by the end of Senior Kindergarten. But I’m not, and I don’t feel guilty for being ungrateful.
You know why?
Because I feel it is too much to expect a 3.5 year old to remember three whole sentences and recite them while in costume, standing in front of a dozen pair of eyeballs! I feel that at age 4 it’s too much to ask a child to make a model of a farmhouse or put together a nice little greeting card for teachers day. Clearly, it is the parents who are going to do these kinds of projects for the child.
What is the objective here, to teach the child motor skills, logical reasoning or something more? What I saw my child learn instead is that mummy had to go to several shops to buy the required materials, and had to browse the internet for ideas (did I teach my child to cheat just then? I don’t know anymore!!).
Invariably, I ended up doing most of the project for her because the only few tasks that she could do at that age was applying glue to stuff. I can think of many easier ways we could have taught her that skill! She also learnt about the spirit of competition, a little bit of jealousy and a little bit of pride.
Competition and jealousy, because her’s wasn’t the best looking farmhouse. I hung my head in shame at the feedback. I don’t remember feeling ashamed of my own projects at school! Pride, because her farmhouse was still better than that of a few other kids. I imagine their moms work full time and still did the best that they could have done but for the kids it wasn’t enough.
I’m beginning to think these projects are actually for the parents … a generous “pay the child’s fee and the parents can revise their kindergarten concepts for free” scheme. Not to forget, we get to learn new things too each day and even for a senior KG child, I’m having to learn and figure out things first before I can teach it to her. I should be thankful for the brain work out. I am also beginning to see how the school is discreetly helping me reinforce a lot of good qualities too, like patience, self reflection, keeping ego in check, resourcefulness for sourcing materials needed for practical lessons and such.
Last year when she had to make a greeting card for her teacher to present on Teacher’s Day, I wanted it to be an excellent card, the BEST one in her class (ego, competition, pettiness?). So instead of letting her make her own card and me simply helping out, I ended up hogging all of her project and the most that she was allowed to do was help cut bits of cello tape. Yes, her card was beautiful, but it brought up so many of my ‘issues’ to the surface – my perfectionist streak and my annoying need to micro-manage a simple project that should have been an enjoyable experience for my child. My smugness, when I saw pictures of greeting cards that other kids brought, because they were a little less ‘perfect’ than mine. And why wouldn’t they be? I had spent almost four days stressing over it!
In hindsight, I saw how I was being too controlling, too much of a joy kill. So this time around, when she had to make a card, I guided her but mostly allowed her to make it HER card for her teacher. She scribbled illegible things on it, stuck as many stickers as she could, made it as snazzy and blingy as she could. All the while I kept holding myself back from jumping right in and taking control so that the card would be a neater looking one. But her smile and concentration as she worked on HER card helped me stay calm. The end result is what it should be for a fun project for my child – it’s unique and it showcases her own creativity. I don’t know what her teacher will think of it and how it will look beside all the other cards that will be pinned on the display board. But I know I learnt patience, and how not to micro manage and take the fun out of things for other people. Most important, my little girl had fun. I know I may not be able to fight the whole education system to change all the things that seem ridiculous to me – things like learning by rote. But maybe if I see it from this angle, you and I can get along just fine, school.
Sangeeta Sudhakaran is a SAHM who works from home as a content writer and editor. If you ask her in the morning on a school day, she would tell you one child is enough. If you ask her when she’s looking at her daughter as she sleeps, she would say she can never have enough babies!