We want our children to develop a positive attitude towards learning, don’t we? Are we giving them the freedom to choose what they wish to learn?

Though I can see a paradigm shift in the manner we are raising our children but yet we see an increase in the number of children suffering from depression, mental stress and other health problems. This is a cause of concern for parents and educators, but are we doing enough?

Is this because they have very little to say about what happens with them throughout the day in school and at home? Have we asked ourselves this question?

Most of the times kids are compelled to follow someone else’s rules and are subject to constant evaluation regarding their academics, extra -curricular activities or their behaviour.

I think such kind of adult behaviour deprives a child of ascertaining their self worth and we also deprive them of self-determination. No one likes to be evaluated on everything that they do. Lack of self determination deprives a child from motivation too. I strongly believe in a child being self motivated.

How I let my daughter choose:

Yesterday my daughter came sobbing back from school. She was feeling humiliated as the teacher had asked her to say the tables in class and she was amongst the very few who didn’t remember. Initially when she was unable to solve multiplication sums, I used to insist that she should learn her tables well. However I know she is more creatively inclined child and her subjects of interests are art and languages so I never used to force her to learn tables. I gave her the freedom to make the choice. Until now she was comfortable and all was well in class. But she was not motivated to learn math or spend more time on practising it and I didn’t force her either. But yesterday she was upset. She was self motivated to learn as she didn’t want to be among the few who didn’t know tables. Her sense of self image in class became important for her.

I sometimes do doubt my parenting style when like other parents I didn’t pay too much attention to her academics. I let her learn at her own pace. I gave her the choice to learn what she loved. But after this incident I know that my nagging or pestering her would not have made the difference to her as much as this incident in her class. It has made an impact on her that now she is motivated to practice more.

Generally on weekdays she only finishes the daily home work which is given to her and she chooses the time when she would like to do it. Either she does it after her snack time or after the half an hour screen time that she gets daily at noon after returning from school.

Her evenings are spent in swimming for around 1.5 hours and this is her choice of sport she wishes to learn. She started formal coaching for swimming three years back when she was five as it was suggested to us by her school teacher to enrol her in a sport as she indentified her kinaesthetic qualities. She insisted that to improve her academic performance we need to tap on her kinaesthetic abilities. This choice has greatly helped my daughter. It is important that the school and teachers recognise the qualities of the child in the early years.

Since I am also a qualified teacher, I refer to many resources while teaching my daughter. One such valuable resource which my mother (she is ex-principal of a pre-primary school) shared with me is ‘Learning To Teach… not for beginners’ by Linda Shalaway published by Scholastic. This resource is essentially for teachers but it has helped me as a parent also.

I read in the book about four types of choices that should be given to every child.

  • What to learn
  • How to learn
  • How well to learn
  • Why to learn

Let’s discuss these in detail:

What to Learn:

When we do our learning activities, I always let my daughter choose the topic she wants to learn. She chooses if she wants to learn nouns in language arts or subtraction in math. She makes that choice. This increases her concentration. Also she is more motivated to learn.  Later after we finish one topic of her choice, I give her options to choose from the topics that she lacks interest but which need to be learnt. She willingly chooses one. Thus the learning objective is achieved easily.

How to learn:

She decides whether she wants to sit on the desk to learn or she wants to sit on the floor. She decides whether she will finish her work independently or does she want me to help her out. She decides if she wants me to read out the story from her literature text or will she read it. I let her choose if she wants me to design an activity or make a work sheet for her to understand the topic she selects for study on that particular day. So essentially I give her the freedom to choose on how to learn.

How well:

How well deals with the evaluation aspect of the learning activity. After a few days we decide on assessment activity which means she chooses if she wants to take a test on a particular day of her choice. She chooses if she wants it to be an oral evaluation or written. I have found that if a child is involved in the evaluation process also it improves their performance. Also I let her correct her answer sheet. This makes the evaluation process exciting too.

Why to learn:

I always discuss with my daughter why a topic needs to be learnt. As a teacher I have a habit to list the learning and teaching objectives for every topic.  So we discuss why we need to learn and how is it connected to our lives. This makes the learning intriguing and fun for her and not a burden.

There is always a doubt that if we will always give the child the freedom to choose than we might lose control. As a parent there will be a fear that they may take undue advantage of this freedom. However it’s my personal experience and my firm belief that giving children choices will make them employ self control in their lives. They will learn to make decisions. They will be better equipped to learn from their mistakes. They will also learn from their failures and that will make them more successful.

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