Teach and learn together
Instead of whiling away the summer vacation in boredom, why not use the time to build parent-children bonding? Dr Ali Khwaja suggests fun activities where parents and children can learn from each other
Exams are over, most results have come in, and yet in most cases, there is still ample time before regular classes start again in school or college. Does it mean that children should stop learning in these summer days? The teachers obviously need a break, so let them take an off and recharge their batteries ….. and make this a wonderful opportunity for parents to take on the role of teachers, not with text books and exercises, but to teach and learn life skills, to build a better bond with the child, and to become children once again.
Often I have heard parents lamenting that the academic system is not very conducive for holistic learning, and that schools are not doing enough to provide proper education. Once in a while it helps to stop complaining or passing the buck, and lift up the shovel to clear our own path. And what better time to do it than now, when the academic year has ended and children are not under pressure of academics and exams?
It has been pointed out time and again by experts that good communication is the first and most important pillar of a parent-child relationship (or any other close relationship, for that matter). And communication, unlike what many parents think, is not lecturing, advising, guiding or threatening. It consists of a process of opening out, feeling comfortable, being able to express deepest emotions, and thus developing closer loving bonds. This process also enables the two generations to share their respective expertise, experience and attitudes, which are mutually beneficial.
Summer holidays are an ideal opportunity for better bonding between parents and their children. And believe it or not, one of the most enjoyable ways to build that bond is to do some teaching …. and learning, together.
Listed below are a host of learning (and interesting) activities that a parent can do with a child, regardless of the age (of the child and the parent). See how many you can accomplish before the holidays get over:
* Identify areas where the child is an expert (e.g. finding out what apps your new mobile phone has), and ask him to teach you.
* Get on to email, Facebook, Farmville, anything on the computer or Internet that your child is interested in, so that there is a sense of togetherness and while it reassures the child that his parent is not hostile to his newfound activities, the parent learns what his child is passionate about.
* Explore different TV programmes together and analyse what they mean, how entertaining they are, and why a child loves a particular programme. Enlighten your child that a recent survey discovered that 70 per cent of the TV viewing we do is boring to ourselves — hence the child should be pro-active enough to watch only those programmes that HE finds entertaining, enlightening, or educative.
* Put up an “Emotions” chart using words, pictures or emoticons depicting the entire range of emotions, and at least once a day review which emotions the parent and child went through during the day, particularly with regard to each other.
* Read the morning newspaper together and mark out news of interest, and exchange views on the printed articles. Ask him to explain to you the areas he knows better, and inform him of happenings in the world he may be ignorant about and has not been able to find out.
* Make a budget for an evening or weekend outing, list out as many alternatives as possible for spending a fixed amount of money — and then review how the financial situation is after the occasion is over. Preferably maintain a notebook that records over the days and weeks if and how he developed better expertise in money-handling. Reward him for his progress.
* Discuss and list out which are the most interesting and most boring subjects being taught (of the child and the parent). Review why a particular subject is boring, and how the interest in that subject varied depending on the teacher, the marks obtained etc. Try and explore together the utility of that subject to real life when the child grows up, and how it can be useful in the progress and success of his life.
* Set aside a “corruption day” to discuss all the corrupt, dishonest, cheating and criminal people, and what they have achieved by being that way. Ensure that you do not sermonize, but slowly lead on the conversation to help the child realise by himself that crime does not pay, and that most corrupt people have ended up miserably though temporarily they may have acquired great wealth and success.
* Read the newspaper together in the morning, mark out some mutually interesting topics, and decide to find out more about that issue, or discuss with others, and catch up with each other last thing in the night to review what was learnt.
* Gardening is a good way to learn creativity, patience, and develop a bonding with nature. Even if you don’t have an open yard, start growing plants in a few pots in the balcony. Explain how nature takes its own time, and no amount of inputs, water, fertiliser can speed up the growth of the plant. This is particularly useful to teach patience to today’s children who are getting habituated to “instant gratification”.
* Make a budget together for a proposed event, or some items that need to be purchased for the home. Encourage the child to explore alternatives, implement the commercial transaction, and then subsequently match the actual expenditure with the budget. Similarly help the child do abstract budgeting for an institution e.g. his school, the neighbourhood shop, etc.
* Throw a party for your child’s friends, have a round table session where each one’s talents and skills are highlighted, suggest what great achievements each one can aspire for. Give titles to each one, like “Army General”, “Minister”, “International Peace-keeper”, “Surgeon”, etc. and ask them to share what they will do when they reach those goals.
* In one such group activity, ask each child to write down independently what he/she would do if rupees two crore were provided with no questions asked. Then compare what each child wrote, its merits and de-merits, the practicality. Reward and praise those who marked out money for good causes.
* Allot days when the child will be allowed to do “whatever he wants” provided he informs in advance, and then reports how he spent the day. Evaluate his maturity level in taking decisions, his peer pressure, etc. and discuss it openly with him. Similarly, allot days when the child will fix activities for the whole family, and the parents will abide instructions like children.
* Teach the child the skill of giving clear directions to a particular destination. When going in a vehicle, let the child become the navigator who instructs the driver where and when to turn. Many children do not develop “spatial intelligence” which is an important part of life skills.
* Make a family scrap book, with as much variety as possible — photographs, knick-knacks of each member, memorabilia, poems or anecdotes, favourite colours, etc. Include extended family members if possible, to give the child the emotional security of knowing that there are so many people who are connected to him.
* Make a family flag with a slogan that represents all family members as a team, and discuss why the flag was given that design or colours. Encourage him to be proud of the family flag, and then lead on to making him proud of the national flag.
* Declare “I am an Indian” day. As you decorate the house for religious festivals, all together decorate the house to show everything Indian. Put on badges and labels of India’s flag, wear dresses that depict your nationality, and highlight everything about India that you are proud of. In fact, you can have a competition and give a prize to the one who comes out with the most significant achievements and greatness of the country.
* Make a list of “Nostalgia Days’, both good and bad, what that event or incident meant to each family member, and whether it improved or impaired relationships. Go back into the past and recall from childhood each members significant days.
* Let parents talk about how their lifestyle was 20 years ago, and for each aspect, let the children fantasise and imagine what life will be 20 years ahead. Encourage the child to be as imaginative and futuristic as possible, which is very important for the twenty-first century citizen.
* Talk about the coming academic year, how the child can (or wants to) make things different, including resolutions for change. This should include both academics and other activities. For example, talk about play-time, which sports to take up, which friends he will be spending how much time with. Also discuss in advance what demands the child is likely to make (e.g. mobile, bike, pocket money etc.) so that an open and healthy discussion can take place when there is no pressure or confrontation. Record the consensus reached so that both are clear later what was decided.
A month or so of such activities will not only bring about a marked transformation in your child, but will also set him going on a path of independent and wide learning about every important facet of life. This is a very valuable gift that any parent can give to a child.