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Home 7. Integrate learning

7. Integrate learning

by Aruna Raghavan

At school here we had Kanimozhi, a precocious child of four and a first generation literate. She learnt with her whole being', giving her a unique prodigious 'memory'. She was like a bird – eager and chirpy. In a few months she outstripped her classmates. It is always interesting to know what makes one better than another in any given field. And so, we began studying her.

We found that she learned quickly. She had us redefine 'learning'. Learning, we learned, watching Kani, was to take any new fact, find a place for it; find other interrelated facts that could be brought together, then restore them as newer, more complex facts. Every new thing heard, seen, read, having been re-assimilated, her actions and ideas took new shape. This was the 'creative effort'. Very often, we are ourselves surprised at what we put out. We are not certain when, why or how the learning took place. Yet, when we do something that makes us smile at our own work, we can be assured that something new has been learned; something new has taken us by surprise. Having understood what was happening to Kani we decided to work on the same lines with other children in the class. In the meanwhile, as she was the only Girl in a class of ten, for two years there was a keen competition in class to do better than a 'girl'. Finally, the boys decided to find things they could do better and get on in life! Even now, her essays are more informative, more moving.

The question then is how do we teach a child to 'learn'. May be a few examples would help. Lets take a few words and find all that we can associate off hand.

Main word: Penguin: bird, flippers, Antarctic, Patagonia, water bird, webbed feet (at two years). Now, we can increase the understanding by talking about their climate, their food, their enemies, their friends, and how they live (at three years); being able to tell the different specie by just looking at it keeps four year olds busy, even as stories from Durrell's books delight them. A five-year-old whose language and speech has developed enjoys learning and saying the scientific names. Aptenoditus patagonicus is quite a mouthful that children enjoy.

However, to look at penguins as just birds is not enough. Emperor penguins have two circulatory systems. One for the body and the other that goes round the feet alone. Blood in the feet being as cold as the rocks they stand on they do not feel the Antarctic cold. Very little blood from the feet is transferred to the main stream at a time. This information to a three year old can become an introduction to the concept of cold blooded and warm blooded creatures, creatures that live in extreme climatic conditions and how they survive, and a study of various systems in our own body… Obviously, to go through an entire range may take anywhere from 6 months to 6 years depending on the age of the child and the complex ideas presented. We move through natural history, animal kingdom, zoos (through Durrell), animal behaviour, geography, biology. We weave together many 'subjects' to present the world as an interesting, varied and amazing place. All this can be very systematic too. A little bit of planning can ensure that your baby has an 'associative memory' – the key to a true learner.

You could: Make a set of cards the size of a foolscap. Make 10 sets of a single theme. Let us continue with the example of bird. If you can choose 10 birds that are as unlike each other as possible (penguin, ostrich, kiwi, seagull, vulture, woodpecker, flamingo, crane, pelican, peacock). These can be presented at first as pictures being shown even as the names are called out. Then, they can be reclassified as water birds, non flying, carrion, migratory, then by the continents they belong, Further classification by the family. To these 10 cards you could make 10 associative cards. Of which 5 would be continents – their names, location, mountains, rivers, some countries. One card could talk about migration, kinds, when, where. One card could talk about webbed feet being similar to paddles of boats, with drawings to show the similarity. One card could show wings and how they are shaped to enable flight to explain why ostrich don't fly. Card nine could be food of each of the birds. And card ten could be a bird in your neighbourhood.

To talk about continents is to move to map work. Buy a large wall map of the world for your child. Then choose any 5 countries that are as far from each other as possible. Lets say, Canada, Brazil, Norway, India and Australia.

Day 1: Show and call out the countries simultaneously as often as you can, [at least 5times]

Day 2: Show him the same countries as often as you can; but this time add Mexico, Chile, England, the Sudan and Japan.

Day 3: Revise the 10 countries three times and add 5: West Indies, Portugal, Russia, Thailand, Mongolia.

Day 4: Revise the 15 countries three times and add 5: Peru, Iceland, Egypt, China, Sri Lanka.

Day 5and 6: Go through the 20 countries and ensure that your child knows them perfectly.

Day 7: Quick recall of the 20 and add 5.

Go through the same motions as the first exercise. It works. We have worked with quite a few children and each time it has worked. For your child, the map is like a large jigsaw and you are helping him solve it. He will adore you for it. And what sight is more enthralling than have your child look at you with joy and expectation?

Aruna Raghavan can be contacted at: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it