Saturday, December 26, 2009

Parenting Tools: Structure

"You cannot divorce learning from life." The truth of these words, quoted by Virginia Axline in her celebrated book 'Play Therapy' gradually dawned on me in the course of my job as a counselor for young children. The education of our children begins long before they join school. Indeed, life is one long tryst with the acquisition of knowledge, right from our first breath through our last.

Today our entire outlook toward education has taken a turnaround. The focus now is on child-centered education. There is an increasing emphasis on the playway method, on keeping the learning environment as unstructured as possible, on giving children the freedom to learn at their own pace. Unfortunately, in this overarching movement toward letting children be, we often tend to overlook the fact that a total lack of structure can be immensely unnerving to any person, let alone a child. Imagine going about with your life without having the slightest notion of what is going to happen the next minute….or hour…..or day! Scary thought, that! More like walking on the precipice of the terrace of a skyscraper…but a terrace without walls! We all need some structure, don’t we, a framework within which we can function?

Sure the not knowing, the suspense can be exciting; creative; adventurous; enthralling. Letting the child be by himself, the way he wants to be, giving him space and the freedom to work at his own pace can truly result in spurts of creative inspiration; make the child scale new heights, explore the unexplored, and utilize his potentials to the hilt. I don’t deny that. But what we need to realize is that even a bird soaring high into the skies, reaching out for the clouds needs the assurance of a nest to come home to, a place he can call his own and where he can unwind himself. So also for a child, daily on the brink of new discoveries and inspired flights to unknown lands on the wings of imagination, there ought to be the security of the routine, some parameter to measure his creativity against. Surely a certain amount of predictable pattern regarding daily activities won't do the child any harm? A fixed time for eating, sleeping, waking up, studying will not curb his growth. In fact, it will only go on to inculcate self-discipline in the child, which is after all, one of the most precious gift we can extend to our child.

Of course this is not to say that a child has to be pinned down to a set of rigid rules and criteria, beyond which he cannot venture. Definitely not. But what needs to be done is to lay down some ground rules --- clear, precise, and above all, reasonable. The idea is to give the child's creativity a direction, to harness and channelize his energies constructively. And this can be done only at an early age, when the child's mind is impressionable and eager and curious --- wet clay, waiting to be molded. It's an awesome responsibility; one that cannot be taken lightly. For it is a well-documented fact that habits inculcated in childhood stay with the person throughout his entire lifetime. In fact, there is even a popular maxim which says: Old habits die hard. So let us all join hands --- teacher and parent, school and home, and try to find the golden mean, strike the right balance between structure and freedom!